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Humpback whales are a chatty bunch, and communication for them is fundamental—it helps them find food, perceive threats, plan trips, and play. When the oceans get noisy due to international shipping and cruise ship traffic, whales talk less. So, with the current decline in human activity in the oceans, scientists are using networks of underwater hydrophones to learn how the mammals’ chatter changes when noise pollution declines, potentially informing new policies to protect them. “The pandemic has created this unexpected opportunity for science, kind of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to look at whale communication behavior in its natural, undisturbed form,” wildlife biologist Christine Gabriele told NPR.
A pair of ecologists estimate that the waste produced by seabirds—the poop of seagulls, pelicans, and penguins—could be worth up to a billion dollars annually. That’s because seabird feces, also known as guano, can be used as commercial fertilizer and is vital for contributing nutrients to marine ecosystems. In early August, the researchers published a study in Trends in Ecology and Evolution that estimates the value of seabird nutrient deposits. Given that 30 percent of the species of seabirds included in the study are threatened, the authors argue that the benefits the birds provide—from fertilizing crops to boosting the health of coral reefs—should prompt global conservation efforts.
The “weapons-grade” Dragon’s Breath chili pepper, invented by accident in 2017 by a hobby grower in partnership with scientists from Nottingham University, is so hot it’s downright deadly. If ingested, it can cause anaphylactic shock. But because its oil is so intense, it could also have public health benefits as a topical numbing anesthetic.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Commonwealth has a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state in the nation—or anywhere in the world. That’s thanks to 134 species of trees and many more shrubs and vines that contribute to the magnificent display of autumn color.
The drama and mystery surrounding the world’s most expensive painting are set to take the Broadway stage in 2022. Salvador Mundi! The Musical will chronicle the tale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance-era portrait of Jesus, presumed lost for hundreds of years and only rediscovered this century. “It is a story that poses the question: ‘What makes art; what gives anything value?’” screenwriter Deborah Grace Winer said. “For $450 million, you could buy the savior of the world.”
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