July 2, 2008
Turns out Australia has upwards of 50 million kangaroos hippity-hoppitying around the arid continent. Cute as they are, kangaroos are major pests on farms and rangelands. To get the general idea, imagine your garden variety rabbit or woodchuck, scale it up to about 200 pounds, and ask it what it wants for dinner.
Current kangaroo reduction measures include shooting, poisoning, supplying birth control, and distributing recipes online. (Herb and caraway crusted kangaroo escalopes on soft olive polenta, anyone?)
But all it takes is a whiff of fresh dingo urine to send a kangaroo fleeing. The YouTube still above shows a kangaroo just moments after taking a full dose straight up both nostrils.
Perceptive Gist readers may be less than astounded to find that kangaroos find the smell of urine objectionable. But apparently they only flee from dingo pee – human urine causes them no consternation at all, and coyote whiz produces only momentary pause.
The last remaining details to be worked out involve the, er, supply side. It turns out that high-quality dingo urine can be hard to lay your hands on. It has to be fresh to be effective, and apparently you can’t artificially bump up a dingo’s productivity without compromising the effectiveness of the result. Nature must be allowed to run its course, it appears.
As a result, dingo urine fetches around 350 Australian dollars per liter (about as much as a bottle of Cristal) and gets shipped around the country on liquid nitrogen to keep it fresh, New Scientist reports.
There were no details about how the wonder solution is collected.
June 13, 2008
Now there’s one more thing that’s bigger in Texas: the turtles. Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth reports that a leatherback sea turtle has nested on the Padre Island National Seashore for the first time since the 1930s.
Leatherback turtles are the largest sea turtles in the world, growing to nearly 10 feet long and weighing almost a ton. In other words, it’s a turtle the size of a horse. Like many other sea turtles, they are highly endangered. Threats include altered beaches, unintentional catch in the fishing industry (sound familiar?), and floating, discarded shopping bags that resemble their main prey, jellyfish – yet another reason to carry a cloth bag with you to the grocery store.
Check Dot Earth for a shot of the massive mother’s 6-foot-wide tracks heading up into the dunes. Our pic opts for the other end of the spectrum, an hour-old baby leatherback making a twilight dash for the surf in Costa Rica.
Today’s turtle surprise is reminiscent of the unexpected return of a wolverine and a wolf we told you about earlier this year. We’re glad to hear it.
(Image: Charles Eldermire)
June 9, 2008
Score one for consumer clout: dolphin populations in the heavily fished eastern tropical Pacific may be starting a recovery, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That stems (at least partly) from the early 1990s movement to make canned tuna “dolphin safe.” Before tuna-fishing fleets adopted the practice, dolphin numbers in the Pacific had dwindled to between one-third and one-fifth of their original numbers, according to NOAA.
At the time, tuna fishing wasn’t just a matter of accidentally catching dolphins: fishing boats pursued groups of dolphins – even scouted for them with helicopters – then surrounded them with nets to catch the hordes of tuna that swam with them. Now the tuna fleets use other methods, and the dolphin catch has dropped to nearly nil (from a 1970s high of 700,000 per year in the eastern Pacific). After far-ranging ocean surveys, NOAA scientists are encouraged by tentative signs of recovery in two of 10 dolphin species, but they still aren’t sure why it has taken more than a decade.
The dolphin story may be headed for a happy ending, but our phenomenal appetite for tuna – well over 3 million metric tons every year – has shifted the burden to other species. Instead of setting nets around dolphin groups, fishermen switch their attention to floating debris and mid-ocean buoys, where they catch thousands of sea turtles, sharks, and slower sea-life along with the tuna.
If it sounds like fishermen are to blame here, remember that they’re not eating all that tuna themselves. But fans of tuna melts and seared ahi (present bloggers included) do have choices. Some supermarkets have begun to carry “sustainable” canned tuna caught with old-fashioned hook and line. It’s a more laborious method, but nearly everything that’s landed is an actual tuna. The main adjustment you’ll need to make: it’s about $5 a can. The way I look at it, after decades spent gouging dolphins, maybe it’s time we paid the price for a while. That’s a consumer action I can get behind.
(Image: Spinner dolphins: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Fisheries Science Center)
June 2, 2008
One catch in trying to cover the wide world of science with just two Gist posts weekly is that follow-ups can take a while. So if you’ve been worrying yourself sick over the fate of the pandas of Wolong or the terrifying 7-minute ordeal of the Phoenix Mars Lander, here’s an update.
The pandas, it turned out, were not quite as well off as they appeared to be in the first few days after the tragic Chengdu earthquake. Two pandas were injured and six went missing, in addition to nearly 100 people that were killed or injured in and around the Wolong research center. The Chinese government had to ship in more than two tons of emergency panda rations, including bamboo, apples, soybeans and eggs.
At the same time, eight two-year-old pandas were removed from Wolong and taken to Beijing, where they will be mascots for the upcoming Summer Olympics. The Associated Press has a short video of the pandas’ arrival in Beijing, complete with charming bamboo munching. Meanwhile, the Wolong center struggles to recover after landslides demolished several buildings. Luckily, all the pandas are alive and accounted for, if somewhat unnerved by the ordeal. The Xinhua newspaper reports that some are benefiting from “psychological counseling.” We’re still sending warm wishes to the pandas – and humans – of Sichuan.
The news coming from the north pole of Mars is decidedly more upbeat. This particular Gist-er spent a critical seven minutes of Memorial Day weekend watching the landing on NASA TV (anyone else? anyone?). The footage consisted mostly of people in blue polo shirts standing around a control room, listening to a countdown delivered by an Austrian-accented announcer. But it was still somehow gripping, if only because something like a remote-control landing on another planet could possibly sound so routine.
After touchdown, the news came fast and furious. In a masterstroke, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a shot of Phoenix on its way down, parachute open. We landed on a broad, frost-heaved plain that was suitably red. A minor hitch in radio link on the second day merely reminded us (was it a stray cosmic ray, perhaps?) of how delicate these space operations are. On the third day, out came the robotic arm. It was minus 111 degrees Fahrenheit out there.
The fossilized Scandinavian parrots are still dead (arguably).
(Image: Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University)
May 16, 2008
Squeaking in under a Thursday deadline, the U.S. Department of the Interior officially made the decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The government’s move appeared to have come somewhat grudgingly, in response to a judge’s order to end five months of hemming and hawing.
As many as 25,000 polar bears roam the Arctic today. But that number is likely to drop drastically as the climate warms and perhaps two-thirds of the Arctic summer sea ice melts by 2050 (as the L.A. Times summarizes). Concern over the fate of polar bears escalated last year as sea-ice melting reached historic highs and the Northwest Passage opened for the first time ever. Polar bears hunt for seals by roaming vast expanses of sea ice; when confined to land, they are much more likely to go hungry.
The great bears have more worries than just global warming. In a northern-hemisphere parallel with pesticide-laden penguins we mentioned last week, polar bears in remote Svalbard have some of the highest organic pollutant levels measured in any animal.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne seemed to hold little enthusiasm for the idea of using the Endangered Species Act as a way to spur the U.S. to curb its emissions. At least his language was forceful, and he hit the larger predicament dead-on. According to the Washington Post:
I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting,” Kempthorne said. “Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective.
(Image: Alaska Image Library/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)