Iceland Is Home to the World's First Open-Water Beluga Whale Sanctuary

After spending their lives performing in captivity, a pair of beluga whales is returning to their natural arctic ocean habitat. As Thrillist reports, Little Grey and Little White will be the first two residents of a new beluga whale sanctuary in Iceland—the first open-water beluga sanctuary in the world.

The two belugas are both females born about 12 years ago. They were taken from their native waters near Russia when they were babies and transported to Shanghai's Changfeng Ocean World—a Sea World-like attraction where marine animals perform for entertainment. Sea Life Trust, the organization behind the new whale sanctuary, has spent seven years organizing the animals' journey to Iceland, and on June 19, they will finally arrive in their new home.

The beluga whale sanctuary is located in Klettsvik Bay on Heimaey Island off Iceland's southern coast. Little Grey and Little White will have a 34,455-square-foot, 30-foot-deep area of open ocean to explore. The water temperatures will also be much closer to what belugas are naturally adapted to, but after spending so much time in China, they whales need acclimate to their frigid new habitat. Currently weighing about 2000 pounds apiece, the belugas are being given extra food to help them bulk up.

Instead of viewing them behind the glass walls of a tank, visitors to the sanctuary will be able to see the whales in their natural environment. From August 1 to October 30, boats will take tourists around the bay where the whales live. Tickets start around $50.

The star residents haven't arrived yet, but the whale sanctuary officially opened this spring. The attraction is also home to a visitors center with an aquarium and a puffin sanctuary, both of which are now open to the public.

[h/t Thrillist]

100 Dachshunds Competed in Cincinnati’s Annual ‘Running of the Wieners’

NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images
NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images

Every year, to kick off Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, 100 dachshunds compete in heats to decide who the fastest dachshund in the Midwest is. This year marks the 43rd annual Oktoberfest—one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany (more than 500,000 people attend the three-day event).

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 19, 100 wiener dogs (and their owners and handlers) gathered in downtown Cincinnati for the 2019 "Running of the Wieners." The dogs, dressed in hot dog costumes, ran 10 heats, which lasted 75 feet or five seconds each. The winner of each heat advanced to the final round, where the top three finishers were decided.

Maple, a long-haired, one-year-old dachshund, ran his way into first place—and into our hearts.

Maple’s owner, Jake Sander, told WCPO that Maple is one of five dachshunds in the family, and that he learned to run fast by chasing his brother around. Leo and Bucky, two other doxies, placed second and third, respectively.

Besides the Running of the Wieners, Zinzinnati also hosts the World’s Largest Chicken Dance. However, the wiener dogs are more fun to watch.

Photographer Captures Polka-Dotted Zebra Foal in Kenya

Frank Liu
Frank Liu

Zebras are known for their eye-catching patterns, but this polka-dotted foal recently photographed in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve really stands out from the herd. As National Geographic reports, the zebra baby likely has pseudomelanism, a rare pigment condition that's been observed in the wild just a handful of times.

Nature photographer Frank Liu saw the zebra foal while looking for rhinos in the savannah wilderness preserve. After initially confusing the specimen for a different type of animal, he realized upon closer inspection that it was actually a plains zebra born with spots instead of stripes. The newborn foal was named Tira after the Maasai guide Antony Tira who first pointed him out.

Zebra foal with spots walking with mother.
Frank Liu

Zebra foal with spots.
Frank Liu

A typical zebra pattern is the result of pigment cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for the black base coat, and melanin, which gives the animal its white stripes. (So if you've ever wondered if zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes, the answer is the latter). In Tira and other zebras with pseudomelanism, the melanocytes are fully expressed, but a genetic mutation causes the melanin to appear as dots rather than unbroken stripes.

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Though rare, this isn't the only time a zebra with pseudomelanism has been documented in nature. Pseudomelanistic zebras have also been spotted in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, but Liu believes this could be the first time one was found in the Masai Mara preserve.

Zebra stripes aren't just for decoration. The distinct pattern may act as camouflage, bug repellant, and a built-in temperature regulation system. Without these evolutionary benefits, Tira has a lower chance of making it to adulthood: Pseudomelanistic zebra adults are rarely observed for this reason. But as Liu's photographs show, the foal has the protection and acceptance of his herd on his side.

[h/t National Geographic]