Scientists find first of its kind two-headed shark

University of Malaga scientists were studying the cardiovascular systems of Atlantic sawmill catsharks (catshark (Galeus atlanticus) when they found one with two heads. This is the first time that dicephaly (two-headedness) has been seen in an egg-laying shark. From National Geographic:

The causes of dicephaly aren't known, but the researchers—led by Valentín Sans-Coma of the University of Malaga—suspect that genetics are the most likely culprit (rather than some environmental factor, à la Blinky, the three-eyed fish, from The Simpsons)...

"We see two-headed sharks occasionally," says George Burgess, director of the Florida program for shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "It's an anomaly, caused by a genetic misfire. There are lots of different kinds of genetic misfires, and most don't make it out of the womb."

"There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of sharks with two heads swimming around: they stand out like a sore thumb, so they get eaten," adds Burgess. "They would have trouble swimming and probably digesting food."

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The mystery of our 12-hour delay: the Mirage Expedition

Numerous tiny islands seem to float outside Sabang harbor on the island of We, which is just off the northernmost tip of Sumatra.

Previously: Investigating the Great Earthquake of 2012

This year for the 4th of July, I varied my routine ever so slightly by spending the day aboard the R/V Marion Dufresne outside of Sabang harbor on the island of We, which is just north of the tip of Sumatra. For more than 12 hours, from roughly 11 in the morning to almost half past 11 at night, we waited and waited, and waited some more, as the local Indonesian immigration and port officials did whatever it was they needed to do to release eight of their fellow citizens into our care. As you can see, I took a few snapshots of the little islands that fringe the marginally larger island of We, but we were not permitted to go ashore.

The following morning, the mystery of our delay was partially explained. As I understand it, the local Sabang authorities had wanted to send our new passengers’ passports to Jakarta for approval, which would have delayed our expedition by days. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, the passports were returned, and we were allowed to proceed south.

Most of the new members of our crew are Indonesian students studying geophysics and other sciences related to our survey of a seismically active section of the Wharton Basin, which is 3 kilometers below the surface of the Indian Ocean. Also aboard are a couple of Indonesian scientists, as well as an Indonesian security officer, who’s a captain in the Indonesian Navy and has been empowered to approve any changes to the expedition plan that’s already been approved by the Indonesian government. Read the rest

Investigating the Great Earthquake of 2012: the Mirage Expedition

At 120 meters long, the Marion Dufresne is the largest research vessel in the French fleet. Here it is at the dock in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where our voyage began.

On April 11, 2012, a magnitude-8.6 earthquake, followed a few hours later by a magnitude-8.2, struck the Wharton Basin, which lies approximately five kilometers below the surface of the Indian Ocean, and some 500 kilometers southwest of the tip of Sumatra. Unlike the magnitude 9.2 earthquake of 2004, whose epicenter was in the volatile subduction zone just off the western coast of Sumatra, the Great Earthquake of 2012, as it’s come to be called, did not trigger devastating tsunamis resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. That may be because its epicenter was well within the Indo-Australian plate, at a depth of 50 kilometers. Even so, the Great Earthquake of 2012 is of keen interest to scientists—at magnitude-8.6, it is the largest intraplate earthquake ever recorded.

During the month of July, I get to accompany an international group of scientists and students on an expedition dubbed MIRAGE, which stands for “Marine Investigation of the Rupture Anatomy of the 2012 Great Earthquake.” Composed of representatives from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), and the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), the group’s collective task is to acquire bathymetry (i.e., to map the seafloor and its sub-surface) in the section of the Wharton Basin directly above and around the epicenter of the 2012 magnitude-8.6 earthquake. My job is to write about their work for EOS's blog. #MIRAGEcruise.

I’ll also be posting at Boing Boing from time to time, to give this site’s readers a heads up on what’s been posted at EOS, as well as to share some of my photos and impressions of the trip. Read the rest

Scientists view never-before-seen glowing jellyfish in Mariana Trench ocean depths


Marine biologists with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expedition in the Mariana Trench encountered a luminous red-and-yellow jellyfish in April, Scientific American reports.

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Rare ocean encounter between sperm whale and remotely operated vehicle caught on video


About two thousand feet (598 meters) below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, remotely operated vehicle Hercules encountered a magnificent sperm whale. Read the rest

'Rising Seas,' long-form radio doc on climate change by Alex Chadwick and 'BURN: An Energy Journal'

My friend, former NPR colleague, and longtime journalism mentor Alex Chadwick has an incredible new radio documenting hitting the public radio airwaves this week. We're sharing it here on Boing Boing before it hits the radio-waves. I asked Alex to tell us a little about 'Rising Seas.' He explains:

The Rising Seas project grew out of an encounter at an MIT energy seminar almost a year ago. I met an Americanized Brit, Dr. Len Berry, from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. He's been speaking forcefully and clearly about the threat that rising seas present. At the end of his talk, I asked if Miami is a viable city. He smiled and answered, 'well, it is right now'.

And then I asked about the end of the century. He smiled again, but said nothing.

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Who is shooting and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and why?

Photo: IMMS

Someone is killing and mutilating dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, and no one can figure out who is doing this, or why. This Friday, a team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Mississippi encountered a dolphin with its lower jaw cut off; last weekend, they found a dead dolphin with a 9mm bullet wound that "went through the abdomen, into the kidneys and killed it," according to IMMS director Moby Solangi. Snip from the Sun-Herald's coverage:
In Louisiana, a dolphin was found with its tail cut off. "Animals don't eat each other's tails off," Solangi said. "We think there's someone or some group on a rampage," he said. "They not only kill them but also mutilate them."

IMMS investigated the first dolphin shooting earlier this year and incidents have increased in the past few months. In Alabama, someone stabbed and killed a dolphin with a screwdriver, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release. In September, a dolphin was found on Elmer's Island, La., with a bullet in its lung. Others have been mutilated with knife-like lesions.

Read more at the Sun-Herald, more at Alabama news site, and more in the Associated Press. All of this may or may not be related to screwdriver attacks on dolphins this June. Who the hell does this? Read the rest

Sean and the Sea Lion: a pinniped story in photographs

Boing Boing reader John K. Goodman shares a series of photographs with us that tell a magical story about a sea lion and his son, Sean. Every time John and his son visit the Long Beach aquarium, she loves to play with Sean's dad's keys. Wonderful photos resulted.

Walrus emits excellent noises on command (video)

[Video Link]

What's 3,400 lbs and makes fart-noise vocalizations when asked? E.T., a 30-year-old Pacific walrus at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA, who is one of only 17 walruses in U.S. zoos and aquariums. He came to the Tacoma facility as an orphan from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and is named "for his wrinkled resemblance to alien in the popular 1982 movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial."

I'd sure like to hear his rendition of "Trololo." [EDIT] OK. Here we go.

The zoo has a pretty great YouTube channel with more videos like this.

(thanks, @joely!) Read the rest

Defunded - a heartbreaking look at the state of oceanic research

This week, I'm reporting from the Aquarius undersea research base in Key Largo, Florida. The habitat is the world's last undersea research base. Because NOAA is pulling funding from the 22 year old facility in September, this week's mission is its last scheduled one.

This is a video of oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle that was taken a day or two ago. She's being filmed on Aquarius a Red Camera that is in a waterproof housing tethered to an internet connection in the base. Sylvia's helmet, which is a custom variation of a helmet that working divers use, is equipped with a point of view camera and audio comms. The entire thing was streamed over Ustream a few days ago. This section of the video is of her answering the broad and simple question--Why should we care about the ocean? Read the rest

OpenROV, the $750 submarine

In the New York Times today, Brian Lam (formerly of Gizmodo, now the creator of Scuttlefish and Wirecutter) writes about OpenROV, a low-cost submarine designed to be an affordable tool for "curious students and amateurs, as well as provide a highly valuable shallow water tool for explorers and scientists."

This month, NASA engineer Eric Stackpole hiked to a spot in Trinity County, east of California’s rough Bigfoot country. Nestled at the base of a hill of loose rock, peppered by red and purple wildflowers, is Hall City Cave. For part of the winter the cave is infested with large spiders, but is mostly flooded year-round. Locals whisper the cave’s deep pools hold a cache of stolen gold, but Mr. Stackpole isn’t here to look for treasure.

He had, under his arm, what might appear to be a clunky toy blue submarine about the size of a lunchbox. The machine is the latest prototype of the OpenROV–an open-source, remotely operated vehicle that could map the cave in 3D using software from Autodesk and collect water in places too tight for a diver to go. It could change the future of ocean exploration. For now, it is exploring caves because it can only go down 100 meters. But it holds promise because it is cheap, links to a laptop, and is available to a large number of researchers for experimentation. Indeed, the OpenROV team hopes to start taking orders for OpenROV kits on the crowd sourced project site, Kickstarter. Going for $750, the kits include laser cut plastic parts and all the electronics necessary to build an OpenROV.

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Inside Alvin: Scientists as Makers

There are things you can't buy at Radioshack. There is not always an App for that. Sometimes, the only way to make something work is to build it yourself.

Nobody knows that better than scientists.

From physicists tracking a particle, to taxonomists identifying a new species of wasp, to chemists creating a useful molecule—nearly every discovery you read about in the paper began with the researchers creating the tools they needed to test their own hypotheses. In the lab, DIY isn't just a hobby. It's part of the job.

And Alvin, a research submersible owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, is one of the most successful scientist DIY projects ever. Launched in 1964, Alvin was part of a trend. At the time, everybody wanted their own deep-sea-worthy mini-submarine. But, almost 50 years later, Alvin is one of the few still in use. The little research vessel that could, Alvin was made—and is regularly re-made—by the very people who use it.

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Richard Branson launches Virgin Oceanic: deep-sea exploring submarines

[ Video link | image: click for large]

Today, Sir Richard Branson, American sailor, pilot and explorer Chris Welsh, and submarine designer Graham Hawkes launched Virgin Oceanic, a project to explore "the last frontiers of our own Blue Planet: the very bottom of our seas." .

The project includes a partnership with Google: "Using their mapping technology, Google hopes to chronicle the dives as they happen and share discoveries, footage and record breaking achievements with the world."

Full launch announcement follows, along with more artist's conceptual images of the submarine and accompanying catamaran. Click each image for large.

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