Wednesday, 31 January 2018
It sounds like a Doctor Doolittle moment, as captive Orcas (so-called Killer whales) have reportedly been trained to imitate human speech, making their sounds via their blow-holes (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jan/31/orcas-killer-whales-can-imitate-human-speech-research-reveals). The research may be useful in revealing how these sociable whales can use sound in their interactions with members of their own species (including coordinated hunting by packs of these aquatic mammals) but the actual words (e.g. 'hello' and 'bye-bye') probably have no more meaning to the animal than performing a begging posture to obtain a food reward. Don't expect any killer whale to say "Sorry, I thought you were a seal", before it chomps on you, anytime soon!
Monday, 29 January 2018
Sunday, 28 January 2018
www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/animals-cameras-nature-mini-series/15860/). I would caution, however, that, in spite of technological developments that make the cameras much smaller and lighter, animals carrying even very modest loads have been shown to change their behaviour (even scientific bird ringing seems to constitute a penalty). Weight may not be the only problem as any addition can change the streamlining of the animal and fastenings can interfere with free movement. Enjoy but take with a pinch of salt.
Strange news from the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam, where a court has reportedly upheld the closure of a shop owned by the Amsterdam Cheese Company for using too much English (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/26/dutch-cheese-heads-told-to-close-amsterdam-shop). The company (motto 'Say cheese to life') is accused of catering more for tourists than locals in their Damrak locality. The owners (self-identifying 'kaas-koppen') claim that, as English is the 2nd language of around 70% of the Dutch, it is simply more convenient to use this language in their labelling.
Saturday, 27 January 2018
- January 27, 2018
Friday, 26 January 2018
A study from Hong Kong has apparently demonstrated a strong link between air pollution and deaths in people with a range of mental disorders (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/26/air-pollution-linked-to-extremely-high-mortality-in-people-with-mental-disorders). The study was based on a decade of mortality statistics and essentially found a much increased death rate on hazy days in people with depression, schizophrenia, dementia et cetera. There could, of course be some complicating factors e.g. people with dementia tend to be older (and hence less resistant to pollution) and individuals with mental disorders may be forced by economic circumstances to live in areas where air pollution is greatest. The authors suggest that the hazy conditions exacerbate depression. It is striking, however, that the UK government has reportedly used some £370,000 of tax payer's money, attempting (unsuccessfully) to legally overturn demands that they do something urgently about the illegal levels of air pollution (mainly nitrogen dioxide) emanating from road traffic in our major cities. The fact that air pollution particularly kills people with mental health issues should stop planners attempting to defer putting solutions into place.
A group of scientists have, on the basis of assumed risks (largely associated with President Trump's access to the nuclear button and the impact of climate change), advanced their notional Doomsday clock by half a minute so it now reads 2 minutes to midnight, when total planetary destruction would occur (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/25/doomsday-clock-ticked-forward-trump-nuclear-weapons-climate-change). But, there again, they are only experts and some politicians suggest we should take no notice of such folk.
I am often reminded of actually how little real fossil evidence is available for Homo sapiens (humans don't fossilise very easily!). An intriguing finding is a piece of jawbone with teeth found in Misliya cave in Northern Israel (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jan/25/oldest-known-human-fossil-outside-africa-discovered-in-israel). The bone has now been dated as being nearly 200,000 years old in spite of the fact, that prior to this find, it was generally accepted that humans only migrated out of Africa (where it is accepted that they originated) some 60, 000 years ago (essentially eliminating other hominid species in the areas they moved into). It now appears that a) migration out of Africa occurred much earlier and b) Homo sapiens may have co-existed and interacted with other hominid species for extended periods. It seems likely, however, that the humans living in the Misliya cave eventually died out, perhaps without contributing much to the spread of our species.
A considerable debate seems to be developing around the reintroduction of the wolf in Europe (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/26/harmless-or-vicious-hunter-the-uneasy-return-of-europes-wolves). Wolf populations have migrated from Italy into France and from Poland to Germany. Animals have been recorded in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Denmark. This has led to calls (mainly by politicians relying on the votes of farmers) for substantial culls in France, Germany, Finland and Norway. Some of these have been challenged (to date, unsuccessfully by the WWF). There are a number of points to note- 1) these predators have beneficial effects in some localities by reducing over-grazing by deer and other animals; 2) you can never be a 100% certain that wild predators will not kill or injure humans or their domestic animals (but, if we can't accommodate the wolf, how can be ask people in other parts of the world to look after tigers, lions, crocodiles and sharks?) and 3) it is possible to minimise negative effects as in the case of Germany's wolf commissioners who encourage farmers to employ electric fencing and guard dogs for their animals.
We have all been converted to the idea that plastics have very detrimental effects on life in our seas (choking turtles and micro-particles being ingested by plankton). A recent study carried out on 125000 corals in the Asia-Pacific region has, however, added to the concern by finding that, whilst only 4% of reefs in plastic free areas were diseased, the incidence of disease rose to 89% in plastic-contaminated locations (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/25/billions-of-pieces-of-plastic-on-coral-reefs-send-disease-soaring-research-reveals). This suggests that plastics may entirely destroy major habitats on which many organisms depend. Perhaps politicians can be encouraged to get their act together more quickly than seems to be the case at present?
Wednesday, 24 January 2018
Reports that the Japanese whaling fleet is about to invest in a faster mother-ship to enable them to 'out-run' protesters who object to the killing of these animals clearly confirms that the claim that their activity is 'research' is a fiction (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/23/japan-to-replace-whaling-mother-ship-in-sign-hunts-will-go-on). Whaling may be profitable but it is both cruel and unsustainable.
Research based on their owner's observations (always subject to a bit of concern) over an extended period on 44 neutered pet cats by researchers at Queen's University Belfast has confirmed that individual animals have a dominant paw when entering a litter box, starting to walk et cetera (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jan/22/paw-choice-cats-show-right-and left-hand-preferences). They did, however, find that male cats tended to use their left paw and females the right. As the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body (and vice versa), they speculated that this might account for the more prominent fear responses evident in males (the right side of the brain is said to be more concerned with 'emotional' factors than the left side).
Monday, 22 January 2018
Thursday, 11 January 2018
The UK government appears to be attempting to develop a greenish tinge with a media mega-gush of warm words on reducing plastic packaging and microplastics (in facial scrubs et cetera); planting 'Northern forests' with the aid of The Woodlands Trust; doing something about difficult-to recycle disposable coffee cups; proposed post-Brexit changes to farming subsidies and other initiatives (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jan/09/michael-gove-takes-on-the-throwaway-culture-of-plastic-bottle-waste). All of this seems to have been triggered by the public response to Blue Planet 2 (catching the wave?). There does, however, seem to be a lack of joined-up thinking with no comments yet about abandoning fracking (in deed, some companies are, reportedly seeking to perform this activity even in sensitive, protected established areas), stopping the ill-advised badger cull to reduce TB in cattle; improving the building of new homes without encroaching on what is left of the environment or reconsidering the costs (financial and environmental) of nuclear power developments such as Hinkley Point. The whole initiative seems a) to be very long term (so nobody is likely to be held to account) and b) to depend on 'nudge theory' rather than legislation.
- January 11, 2018
Friday, 5 January 2018
It has been reported that the up-market supermarket, Waitrose, is to stop selling high caffeine 'energy drinks' to children under 16 (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/04/waitrose-ban-sales-high-caffeine-energy-drinks-children-16/). This is apparently a response to the potential effects of these drinks on obesity and behavioural change. I will reiterate my standard moan that they should not really be labelled 'energy drinks' (in spite of their glucose content) as their ingestion tends to produce reactive hypoglycaemia (a lowering of blood sugar by insulin release, with reduced energy and increased irritability in many subjects). There have been the standard responses by people who think that supermarkets should not 'dictate' what we buy (although 16 year-olds cannot legally buy alcohol in stores). The questions might arise of how 16 year-olds demonstrate their age to people on the check out and how you can stop people buying the drinks for younger children. I personally feel that this is a good move that hopefully might be taken up (and extended) by other chains.
The environmental audit committee in the UK parliament has apparently advocated imposing a 25p surcharge, followed by a possible complete ban, on disposable coffee cups (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/05/mps-25p-charge-takeaway-coffee-cups-possible-ban-environmental-audit-committee-report). It seems that around 2.5 billion disposable cups are used each year in the UK and only a tiny percentage (circa 0.4%) are recycled because of their mix of cardboard and plastic. The surcharge could be used to fund further recycling (it can be done) or its imposition might well encourage a search for alternatives (customers bringing their own rechargeable cups or using actual washable crockery?).
Thursday, 4 January 2018
A study, with genetically modified mice, has cast further light on the association between alcohol ingestion and cancers (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jan/03/alcohol-can-cause-irreversible-genetic-damage-to-stem-cells-says-study). Although there could be species differences in responses to this popular material, it seems that alcohol simultaneously impairs the body's ability to clear away an alcohol metabolite (acetaldehyde) that lesions DNA as well as the effectiveness of genetic repair mechanisms. These effects could alter any of the body's cells but seem to especially damage the organism's reserve of stem cells (unspecialised cells that can give rise to a range of tissues). The UK population shows a particularly high incidence of alcohol-related cancers. Cheers!
There seems to have been a plethora of fire-related animal deaths at UK zoos over the Christmas 2017 holiday period. An aardvark and several meerkats died at London zoo (www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-42465392/london-zoo-devastated-by-aardvark-fire-death) and 13 Patas monkeys were killed at Woburn Safari Park (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/02/breaking-thirteen-monkeys-killed-woburn-safari-park-fire/). It should be noted that, although many zoo animals do tend to live longer than their counterparts in the wild, caged animals to have some particular risks. Fires in zoos are frequently linked to catering and caged animals in adjacent areas are not easy to locate and rescue. I have also noted earlier that the siting of zoos near city centres can also damage animal health due to exposure to vehicle-generated air pollution.
Wednesday, 3 January 2018
The recent ban by China on importing much plastics waste from the UK and other locations means that some countries have to reconsider how they do their 'recycling' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/07/chinese-ban-on-plastic-waste-imports-could-see-uk-pollution-rise). Essentially, what China has been prepared to pay for UK plastics waste has subsidised the costs of council recycling efforts (but not, perhaps, covering the costs of house-holder's time and hot water washing of items?). The material has often been recycled back to us from China in a variety of products. Perhaps, the policy change (linked to a need to improve environmental conditions in China) will lead to changes in the UK including a) reducing the amount of plastics in packaging; b) incinerating some of the waste (with carbon capture?) to generate electricity and c) recycling some of the material ourselves?
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