Humpback Whales in Canada Get Fish to Swim Right Into Their Mouths

iStock.com/psahota
iStock.com/psahota

Humpback whales are incredibly intelligent creatures, so it’s perhaps no surprise that they’re also savvy hunters. As Cosmos magazine reports, humpbacks off the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island have been seen tricking fish into swimming directly into their open mouths.

These cetaceans usually lunge toward their prey, and since they're about the size of a school bus, this is generally a pretty sound method. However, researchers spotted two humpback whales testing out a totally new tactic in 2011. Instead of chasing after fish, the crafty cetaceans were seen holding still while looking up towards the sky with half of their heads poking above the water. When they open their jaws, the dark recesses inside their mouths can easily be mistaken for a safe harbor, where fish might seek refuge from predatory seabirds. The cetaceans also use their pectoral fins to draw water towards them, and once the Pacific herring have been lured inside, they snap their powerful jaws shut. On average, they keep their mouths open for 18 to 90 seconds.

“The whale is providing a shadow or shelter,” Christie McMillan, executive director of the Marine Education and Research Society, tells The Vancouver Sun. “It’s like a Venus flytrap, a sit-and-wait idea. It’s not working so well for the herring, but it’s working for the whales.”

This trap-feeding technique was described for the first time by researchers from the society in a recent issue of Marine Mammal Science. Even more remarkably, the behavior seems to be spreading, which means the whales might be learning from each other. Only two humpbacks were spotted using the technique in 2011, but 16 were seen trap-feeding in 2015.

“Based on the rapid diffusion of the behavior and the characteristics of the prey consumed using this technique, trap-feeding appears to be an energetically efficient method of foraging on juvenile herring that is culturally transmitted between humpback whales," the researchers write in their paper.

The behavior hasn’t yet spread among humpbacks beyond British Columbia, as far as researchers can tell. However, Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Thailand have exhibited similar feeding behaviors, according to The Vancouver Sun.

[h/t Cosmos]

Bizarre New Giant Salamander Species Discovered in Florida

There’s something in the water in Florida, but it’s not the swamp monster locals may have feared. According to National Geographic, scientists have discovered a new species of giant salamander called a reticulated siren, and you can find the 2-foot-long amphibian in the swamps of southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

Locals have long reported seeing a creature with leopard-like spots, the body of an humongous eel, and axolotl-like frills sprouting out of the sides of its head, but its existence wasn’t described in scientific literature until now. Researchers from Texas and Georgia recently published their findings in the journalPLOS ONE.

“It was basically this mythical beast,” David Steen, a wildlife ecologist and one of the paper’s co-authors, tells National Geographic. He had been trapping turtles at the Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Florida, in 2009 when he caught one of the creatures by chance. After that encounter, the researchers set out to find more specimens.

Colloquially, locals have long been calling the creature a leopard eel. Because the reticulated siren only has two tiny front limbs, it's easy to mistake it for an eel. Its hind limbs disappeared throughout the course of millions of years of evolution, and it also lacks eyelids and has a beak instead of the teeth that are typical of other salamander species.

They belong to a genus of salamanders called sirens, which are one of the largest types of salamander in the world. The second part of the species’ name comes from the reticulated pattern seen on all of the individuals that were examined by researchers. The reticulated siren is also one of the largest vertebrates to be formally described by scientists in the U.S. in the last 100 years, according to the paper.

There are still a lot of unknowns about the reticulated siren. They lead hidden lives below the surface of the water, and they’re thought to subsist on insects and mollusks. Researchers say further study is urgently needed because there's a chance the species could be endangered.

[h/t National Geographic]

Forget Therapy Puppies—Michigan State Students Brush Cows to De-Stress for Finals

iStock.com/123ducu
iStock.com/123ducu

As more universities are coming to understand just how stressful the rigors of modern academics can be, many institutions have begun bringing dogs onto campus to soothe anxious students during finals week. At Michigan State University, students have a more unique option to help them de-stress: cow time.

According to Click on Detroit, the recent "Finals Stress mooove on out!" event gave students the chance to brush cows at Michigan State's Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center just south of the school's main campus. For $10, participants spent 30 minutes brushing one of the school's 200 dairy cows, an activity designed to relax both the human and the cow.

Not all students come to college with a working knowledge of large-ruminant etiquette, so MSU farm manager Andrea Meade was on hand to show students what to do, prevent them from accidentally spooking the animals, and answer questions about milking and dairy practices.

Studies have shown that petting dogs can help lower your blood pressure, but dogs aren't the only animals that provide people with a psychological boost. A number of animals have been found to help relax humans (though the effect tends to be greater when it's a familiar animal rather than one the person just met), including cows. One 2011 study in Norway found that after working on a dairy farm for 12 weeks, psychiatric patients showed lower levels of anxiety and depression.

And the cows need to be brushed whether there are students there or not, so the event presented a mutually beneficial situation. Many dairies employ automated brush systems to keep cows clean and stimulate blood flow, keeping them happier and healthier in the process.

You don't need to be a student to enjoy the calming effects of cattle, though. Upstate New York's Mountain Horse Farm's hour-long "cow cuddling" sessions let you pet, brush, and play with new bovine friends for $75.

[h/t Click on Detroit]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER