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There’s been some debate over whether or not we should be cleaning up the grimy animal casualties from BP’s oil spill. Over 500 nearly-alive birds have been recovered and cleaned since the catastrophe, but there’s been a call by some scientists and even big-name conservationist group World Wildlife Fund to just euthanize the poor animals.

Those who say yes to euthanization claim that capturing the oiled birds only further stresses them out, and that even after a thorough cleaning the long term survival rate is ridiculously low. According to Silvia Gaus, a biologist at the Wattenmeer National Park, “the middle-term survival rate of oil-soaked birds is under 1 percent.” Another study conducted by British Study showed that birds cleaned and released in other oil spills only survived for seven days.

Further, the collection and cleaning process causes the birds adds even more trauma and suffering. In a “How to Clean Oiled Birds ” video, the instructor warns to clean them as quickly as possible, as the bird “thinks he’s being eaten.” Also, forcing a Pepto-Bismol coal solution down their throats won’t save them from the eventual destruction of their liver and kidneys.

However, some people are saying we “owe them.” As animal rescue sites find more and more oiled birds, their methods are improving:

“In the past, birds were cleaned right away, and volunteers often worked through the night bathing rescued birds,” explains Newsweek reporter Jeneen Interlandi, “But, as research has since shown, the stress of capture and cleaning can be profoundly deleterious to a bird’s health – knocking hormones out of balance and exacerbating organ damage. So now, captured birds are left to rest for a day or two before being cleaned, and only washed during the day, so as not to disrupt their circadian rhythms.”

There’s no clear-cut answer here. On the one hand, even cleaned birds will suffer from long-term health issues. On the other hand, can we really sit back and do nothing while they flounder?

Source: Discover Magazine

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Scientists have discovered that ancient sea reptiles may have been as warm-blooded as modern-day whales and dolphins.

Most reptiles and fish are cold-blooded, meaning that their body temperature is often the same as the water they swim in. Few reptiles and fish can self-regulate their own temperature, though some – such as the tuna and swordfish – can, to some extent.

Three types of large ancient reptiles, Icthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs, lived during the Mesozoic period about 251 million to 65 million years ago. By studying fossils, scientists were able to determine the oxygen isotopes in the teeth of the ancient predators. The levels of oxygen isotopes within the teeth accurately reflect the level of oxygen that would have been in the blood of the reptiles. These levels can be used to determine the sea monster’s relative body temperature. When compared to other sea creatures that lived in the same waters, scientists found that the body temperatures were higher in the reptiles.

Scientists expected to find self-regulation in plesiosaurs and icthyosaurs, as they were active predators. However, mososaurs are ambush predators, and though the data is ambiguous, scientists believe that the species likely had the ability to self-regulate its temperature to some degree. The predator’s higher body temperatures also suggest the possibility that they had heat-conservation systems such as blubber layers and specialized blood circulation.

“From here we can really begin to investigate how this might have evolved,” said Ryosuke Motani, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of California, Davis. “These [sea reptiles] all came from land reptiles, who we’re pretty sure were so-called cold-blooded, and it was probably the same when they started swimming. But over time it looks like homeothermy evolved, and so we need to figure out when that happened and why,” he said.
“Maybe it evolved as they became better at cruising, or [because] there were changes in average temperature or in sea level.”

Source: National Geographic

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Sharks are incredibly good at sniffing out prey, sometimes zeroing in on their potential snack from miles away. This accuracy comes from their keen sense of smell, which can detect delays in smell no more than a second long. Whenever they notice a lag, sharks will alter their course until the scent becomes more consistent.

This evidence flies in the face of what used to be the popular view: It was believed that sharks detected smells based on the concentration of odor molecules hitting one nostril as compared to the other. However, studies based on this hypothesis showed that relying on molecule concentration can be deceptive:

“There is a very pervasive idea that animals use concentration to orient to odors,” stated Jayne Gardiner of the University of South Florida. “Most creatures come equipped with two odor sensors – nostrils or antennae, for example – and it has long been believed that they compare the concentration at each sensor and then turn towards the side receiving the strongest signal. But when odors are dispersed by flowing air or water, this dispersal is incredibly chaotic.”

Gardiner’s findings may explain the peculiar orientation of the hammerhead. Their wide, flat heads may allow them to pick up on smells far better than other shark species.
“If you consider an animal encountering an odor patch at a given angle, an animal with more widely spaced nostrils will have a greater time lag between the odor hitting the left and right nostrils than an animal with more closely spaced nostrils,” Gardiner explained. “Hammerheads may be able to orient to patches at a smaller angle of attack, potentially giving them better olfactory capabilities than pointy-nosed sharks.”

Source: Science Daily

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Scientists have engineered the first plastic antibodies and, better yet, they appear to work. Only 1/50,000th the size of the width of a human hair, artificial antibodies can be injected into the bloodstream and function nearly as well as natural antibodies.

Antibodies are our body’s first source of protection. Whether you’re suffering from allergies or fighting off a cold, antibodies identify and fight antigens. However, sometimes our immune systems can become overwhelmed and we aren’t able to produce enough antibodies to counteract the viruses or bacteria assailing our system. This is where plastic antibodies just might be able to help.

Using tiny plastic nanoparticles, researchers imprinted the antigen melittin (the toxin in bee venom) on the surface of the nanoparticle. The imprint allows the antibody to identify and attach itself to antigens in the blood. The researchers then gave laboratory rats a whopper of a bee sting and an injection of the plastic antibodies. The rats that received the injection were far more likely to survive than the rats that didn’t.

If further studies can conclusively show that plastic antibodies work, this could be a huge breakthrough. Artificial antibodies could be used to supplement immune systems that are unable to produce enough antibodies to counteract rapid virus production. The only caveat is that the plastic antibodies do not work as effectively as natural antibodies.

Source: Popular Science

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