Northeastern University

Weekly Webcrawl: singing whales, soaring starlings, and squid sex

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Photo via Thinkstock.

Photo via Thinkstock.

Time for the second installment of my Weekly Webcrawl series. It was a busy week in science news. Here are a few highlights:

  • If you’re ever feeling lonely, just visit this website and Hawaiian whales will sing to you in real time.
  • It was a good news week for animal sex: Giant-squid were filmed in the act for the first time and barnacles’ proportionately giant penises work in more ways than we thought.
  • It was not a good week for millions of americans who came down with the flu, that “pathetic” bug that we really should be better at eradicating. We are getting better at tracking it however, using things like Google and Twitter. (Northeastern network scientist Alex Vespignani uses human mobility patterns to do the same thing with exceptional accuracy.)
  • It was also a bad week for environmental journalism…or wasn’t: In the most recent bout of science journalism slaughtering, the New York Times cut its environmental sectionBora Zivokivch explains the reasons behind the decision, some of which are quite compelling, and what it means for the future of the field.
  • Here’s a lovely post from the Times’ Green Blog describing a project that finally draws scientific conclusions from all the naturalist data Thoreau collected during his various adventures.
  • A couple weeks ago I wrote about a Northeastern psychology professor’s work that suggests self-directed play in the outdoors enables a better understanding of the natural world. On Tuesday, Linda Stone wrote about this phenomenon in the broader context of human development in a fabulous article on Boing Boing.
  • The fork, everyone’s favorite eating utensil showed up a few times, too. Although not always favorably: It may be responsible for every human having an overbite, but it’s making up for this unsavory past with a new version for the new millennium that may help prevent overeating. If you’re curious about the fork’s full biography, you’ll find it on Christina Agapakis’ Scientific American blog, Oscillator.
  • Apparently procrastination isn’t always a tell-tale sign of sloth. John Tierny explains how in some cases it makes us even more productive (thank god).
  • We’ve been hearing about declines in bee populations for a while now. This week I learned that until recently there hasn’t actually been a good bee monitoring system in place to justify those claims. Also, a widely used pesticide was banned in the UK this week because of its impact on bees. We’re starting to notice little buzzers!
  • The Beijing skyline and it’s overwhelming preponderance of soot was the topic of much discussion this week, and Chinese officials didn’t squelch the critical talk. And speaking of soot, not only is it bad for our lungs, it’s also bad for the planet. Go figure.
  • Murmuration refers to the incredible collective behavior of a flock of starlings. I first learned of it a couple years ago and since then it seems there have been dozens of stories about it. But when  science writer Christie Aschwanden encounters one on her morning walk, it still makes for an inspiring read…and bonus video! Oh, and here’s another video of birds hanging out, these ones are adorable but going extinct.
  • Here’s some great storytelling in a Wired article by Carl Zimmer on the genetic sleuthing of a mass murderer: Klebsiella pneumoniae.
  • And finally, because I like to save the best for last, here’s a video tour of the International Space Station. I wish I’d seen it when I was nine, because if I had I’d be an astronaut by now. It’s 25 minutes long but it goes by in a flash.

 


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