Why the US Navy wanted to communicate using whale language

In the 1960s and 1970s, the US Navy researched whether they could use synthesized whale sounds for submarines to have encoded conversations across long distances underwater. Called Project COMBO, it was a fascinating attempt at biomimicry. The project's culminating experiment even attracted a pod of whales. Alas, Project COMBO ultimately failed, but it makes for a great story. From Cara Giaimo's article in Atlas Obscura:

Positioning themselves off of Catalina Island, 150 feet underwater, they blasted their squeaky, warbly codes through a transmitter. The receiver, placed at varying distances away, plucked the messages out of the noise flawlessly. Another test, in the fall, went deeper down and extended the range. In June of 1974, they sent out a real submarine, the USS Dolphin, which successfully transmitted sounds to a receiving ship—and, in a true vote of confidence, attracted a pod of pilot whales.

After these testing successes, researchers were left with a lot of work to do. Although they had the pilot whale on lock, they wanted to expand their repertoire by inventing “techniques and equipment to synthesize large whale sounds and small whale screams.” They still had to create scalable versions of their tools, including the call generator and the spectrograph-recognizer. Looking ahead, more problems loomed: the researchers figured this was a good enough idea that the Soviets would steal it, at which point American submariners would need to add another skill to their arsenal. “Fleet sonarmen must become more familiar with bioacoustic signals,” they wrote—inspiring thoughts of submarine soldiers, facing long days underwater, taking up sonic seal- and whale-watching.

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First photo of tarantula eating a snake in the wild

Researchers in a southern Brazil grassland spotted a tarantula munching on a foot-long snake. It's the first time a tarantula having this particularly hearty meal has been documented in the wild. The non-venomous snake is a Erythrolamprus almadensis and the tarantula is a Grammostola quirogai that boasts .8-inch long fangs. Federal University of Santa Maria graduate student Leandro Malta Borges found the dining tarantula under a rock. From National Geographic:

As Borges looked on, the tarantula huddled over the decomposing snake, chowing down on the exposed, liquefied guts.

In their description of the scene, published in Herpetology Notes in December 2016, the researchers chalk up the snake’s demise to an accidental break-in. In Serra do Caverá, many tarantula species, in particular sedentary females, hide in the rocks.

“Most likely, the snake was surprised upon entering the spider’s environment and hence [was] subdued by it,” the researchers write.

(photo by Gabriela Franzoi Dri) Read the rest

Moose warms face with car exhaust

On a brisk wintry day, this clever moose decided to use a car's exhaust to get a faceful of warm air. The best part is the car owner who keeps scraping his windshield. Read the rest

Smooth chihuahua Nana has the derp game on lock

Instagrammer Edamame114 is proud biographer of Japan's derpiest superstar chihuahua Nana. Follow Nana's adventures wearing hats, going to local landmarks, and eating treats. Warning: you may make audible sounds while scrolling. Read the rest

Stabilized footage of a cow playing with a hay bale

Redditor ibru stabilized this adorable clip of a cow rolling a hay bale down a hill: "I know it wasn't really needing to be stabilized a lot but I thought it'd make a good pano-ground gif." Read the rest

Watch a young grizzly bear play with floating video cameras

Below, a young grizzly bear plays with two GoPro cameras mounted on a pontoon floating in the clear water of the Knight Inlet on the British Columbia Coast.

"The idea was to film bears diving for fish in 2-meter deep pools," wrote Newsflare member kitchinsink, who uploaded the video. "If I was in the pool they wouldn't come and dive so I needed a camera that would float 'inconspicuously!'"

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Watch this iguana run for its life from a snake attack

From BBC's Planet Earth II, intense footage (with an intense soundtrack) from the Galapagos Islands of a newly-hatched iguana chased by racer snakes.

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Cute two-faced calf is oldest of its kind to survive

Meet Lucky, a two-faced calf who lives in Campbellsville, Kentucky. Lucky is just over a month old but may be the oldest animal of its kind to survive with the genetic abnormality, called diprosopus. From National Geographic:

The calf was named Lucky by the McCubbins' five-year-old daughter, Henley, after her parents told her the rare animal was lucky to be alive. Most such genetic or developmental defects are aborted in the womb, although a few make it to birth. Most of those die within a few days.

For a two-faced or two-headed animal to make it to adulthood is extremely rare. It's considered ultrarare in the wild, although two-faced cat "Frank and Louie" lived to at least 12 years old, thanks to the care of its owners.

So far, Lucky has been doing well, the McCubbins said, although the middle two of her eyes don't work. She can only walk in circles and falls down a lot.

Lucky needs some help eating, and both mouths move at the same time.

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Hipster snake sports mustache and sunglasses

The Texas Park and Wildlife Department recently posted this photo of a particularly stylish Western rat snake.

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2016 Comedy Wildlife photo finalists announced

Wanting to see some new animal reaction pics? Swing by The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards and be inspired by some of 2016's best. Something for every occasion. Read the rest

Adorable doggo turns 12 and gets a Big Mac to celebrate her birthday

“My dog Pip turned 12 the other day and we gave her a Big Mac to celebrate,” says IMGURian Amandazander1d.

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Horses can communicate with people using symbols

Researchers from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute developed and tested a system for horses and people to communicate using a symbolic language. From the Daily Grail:

...Twenty three horses learned to tell trainers if they wanted to wear a blanket or not. Subjects were shown three symbols: a horizontal bar to say "I want a blanket", a blank square for "No change", and a vertical bar for "I don't need a blanket". They learned the meanings in a day or two and using them to convey if they were too warm or too cold, building the case for self-awareness...

(In the scientific paper, the researchers write that,) "When horses realized that they were able to communicate with the trainers, i.e. to signal their wishes regarding blanketing, many became very eager in the training or testing situation. Some even tried to attract the attention of the trainers prior to the test sit- uation, by vocalizing and running towards the trainers, and follow their movements. On a number of such occasions the horses were taken out and allowed to make a choice before its regular turn, and signalled that they wanted the blanket to be removed. It turned out that the horses were sweaty underneath the blanket."

"Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences" (Applied Animal Behaviour Science)

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What animals would look like if they had eyes at the front

A creepy series of shoops by IMGURian Kiyoi from Mashable, riffing off a single uncanny Reddit shoop.

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The Cat from Outer Space

Movie trailer for The Cat from Outer Space (1978), directed by Norman Tokar and starring Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, and Roddy McDowall. I predict a remake in 3... 2... 1....

If you're, er, curious, you can watch it on Amazon Video: The Cat from Outer Space

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Drowning Pool's "Bodies" covered by angry animals

Insane Cherry was good enough to create what is undoubtedly the most metal cover of "Bodies" ever recorded. Birds, goats, camels, seals, cats, and dogs all come together for this historic collaboration. Read the rest

Warning: viewing these baby animals in cute outfits may kill you

Brace yourself for a level of cuteness that could have lasting effects. Zoo Portraits by Barcelona-based Yago Partal include interesting information about each species. That cute otter could grow to 99 pounds, the heaviest of the weasel family. Read the rest

Ominous music in shark videos makes people more negative about the fish

A new study suggests that the ominous background music often heard in shark documentaries correlates with viewers' fearful and negative opinions of sharks. (For the source of this musical cliche, see the 1975 trailer for Jaws above.) From the Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers paper in the scientific journal PLOS One:

Using three experiments, we show that participants rated sharks more negatively and less positively after viewing a 60-second video clip of swimming sharks set to ominous background music, compared to participants who watched the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence. This finding was not an artifact of soundtrack alone because attitudes toward sharks did not differ among participants assigned to audio-only control treatments. This is the first study to demonstrate empirically that the connotative attributes of background music accompanying shark footage affect viewers’ attitudes toward sharks. Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content.

"The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers' Perceptions of Sharks" (PLOS One via Dangerous Minds)

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