Thursday, November 08, 2007

Whale Songs May Actually Be Sounds Of 'Conversation'

A simply fascinating story :

Thousands of hours of humpback whale sounds have been recorded off the coast of Queensland and analysed to reveal a secret and ancient language of the deep sea.

Over three years, researchers identified at least 34 recurring sounds - some lasting less than one second and others stretching for more than 10 - that can be linked to specific, different social settings.

"I've found that they have this massive repertoire," University of Queensland researcher Dr Rebecca Dunlop said.

"I think their communication system is a lot more complicated than we gave them credit for," she said.

From high-pitched squeaks, shrieks and cries to purrs, groans and low yaps, Dr Dunlop mapped the repeated sounds for a paper published this month in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Some noises represent aggression and competition, others affection and concern.

....higher-frequency signals are used when males are competing for the affections of a female.

"These high-frequency cries and screams (are also heard) when they're having a bit of a row," she said.

Dr Dunlop describes the male "purring" sound as a "C'mon baby" call to females, used as a mating signal.

You can hear the sounds of whales 'having a chat' by clicking here

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Elephants On Acid - This Is Science?

More examples of the incredibly cruelty that some inflict on animals, and their fellow man, in the name of research. Or should that be using up their research grants before asking for another?

One Friday in August 1962 Warren Thomas, director of Lincoln Park Zoo in Oklahoma City, raised his rifle and took aim at Tusko the elephant. With a squeeze of the trigger he scored a direct hit on the animal's rump, firing a cartridge full of the hallucinogenic drug LSD into the animal's bloodstream.

The dose was 3,000 times what a human might take for recreational purposes, and the results were extraordinary. Tusko charged around and trumpeted loudly for a few minutes before keeling over dead.

Thomas and his colleagues maintained the mishap was the result of a scientific experiment to investigate whether LSD brought on an unusual condition in which elephants become aggressive and secrete a sticky fluid from their glands. In a report of the incident submitted to the US journal Science four months later, the team concluded: "It appears that the elephant is highly sensitive to the effects of LSD."

Who would have guessed that?

New Scientist magazine has a 'top ten' of the 'most bizarre experiments' ever carried out. Elephant On Acid is just one of the truly weird experiments under discussion :

One experiment in the 1960s saw 10 soldiers board an aircraft for what they believed was a routine training mission from Fort Hunter Liggett airbase in California. After climbing to around 5,000 feet the plane suddenly lurched to one side and began to fall. Over the intercom, the pilot announced: "We have an emergency. An engine has stalled and the landing gear is not functioning. I'm going to attempt to ditch in the ocean."

While the soldiers faced almost certain death, a steward handed out insurance forms and asked the men to complete them, explaining it was necessary for the army to be covered if they died.

Little did the soldiers know they were completely safe. It was merely an experiment to find out how extreme stress affects cognitive ability, the forms serving as the test. Once the final soldier had completed his form the pilot announced: "Just kidding about that emergency folks!"

A later attempt to repeat the experiment with a new group of unwitting volunteers was ruined by one of the previous soldiers, who had penned a warning on a sickbag.

One of the most gruesome experiments to make New Scientist's list was performed by the Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov. In 1954 he unveiled a two-headed dog, created in the lab by grafting the head, shoulders and front legs of a puppy on to the neck of a German shepherd dog. Journalists brought in to examine the creature noted how milk dribbled from the stump of the puppy's head when it attempted to lap milk. Occasionally, the two would fight, with the German shepherd trying to shake the puppy off, and the puppy retaliating by biting back.

The unfortunate creation lived for six days, though Dr Demikhov repeated the experiment 19 more times over the next 15 years, with the longest-lived lasting a month. Although the work was dismissed as a publicity stunt outside the Soviet Union, Dr Demikhov was credited with developing intricate surgical techniques that paved the way for the first human heart transplant.

Predictably, sex also appears on the magazine's list of bizarre experiments. When investigating the sexual arousal of male turkeys researchers at Penn State University were impressed to see that the birds would attempt to mate with lookalike dummies. Piece by piece they removed parts of the dummy and found that the males were still highly aroused when presented with no more than a head on a stick.