Highway Paleontologist Digs Up a New Species of Whale

The Atlantic Wire

Discovered: How a California law lead to a whale fossil discovery; over half of moviegoers want to puke while watching 3D films; dogs sniff out other dogs in crowds; tracking climate change through Rock Hyrax urine.

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Government-mandated paleontologist makes a whale of a discovery. If the state of California hadn't approved a highway-widening project in Laguna Canyon, we may never have found evidence of four previously unknown types of baleen whale which once swam the Earth's oceans. By law, new road projects in the state have to involve on-site supervision from a paleontologist and an archaeologist. That's why paleontologist Meredith Rivin of the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center was there to find 30 cetacean skulls that lead to the discovery of the newly identified toothed baleen whale species that lived 17 to 19 million years ago. Modern baleen whales of course don't have teeth, but these Miocene-era fossils suggest that today's filter-feeding whales descended from toothed ancestors. Nick Pyenson of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History says he'll "be excited to see what [the researchers] come up with" in terms of what this finding means for our understanding of whale evolution. Though we're sure many a paleontologist has stood idly on fruitless California road-cutting projects, these findings are a big win for government-mandated researchers at transportation project sites. [ScienceNow]

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3D movies nauseate a majority of viewers. If the 3D movies trend really is dying, a lot of moviegoers will be thankful. According to a new study published in Public Library of Science One, 3D movie technology makes over half of viewers want to vomit. The researchers gave 497 healthy adults a questionnaire after having them watch a traditional 2D film and a modern 3D film. While only 14.1 percent got nauseous during the flat movies, 54.8 percent reporting wanting to vomit while watching 3D films. "Seeing 3D movies can increase rating of symptoms of nausea, oculomotor and disorientation, especially in women with susceptible visual-vestibular system," the researchers conclude. [Discover]

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Dogs pick dogs out of a crowd. Man's best friend has no interest in man when it's in a crowd — it's busy detecting the other dogs hidden amidst all the commotion. Dominique Autier-Dérian of France's National Veterinary School and his colleagues have found that dogs have a unique ability to find other dogs in crowds. In an experiment that presented dogs with tables of images — some of other dogs, most of various other species — the dogs were able to focus in on their own kind. "The fact that dogs are able to recognize their own species visually and that they have great olfactory discriminative capacities insures that social behavior and mating between highly morphologically different breeds is still potentially possible and therefore that, although humans have stretched Canis familiaris to its morphological limits, its biological entity has been preserved," the researchers conclude. [Scientific American]

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Climate change affects Rock Hyrax pee. Melting ice-caps are one way to measure the progress of climate change. The occurrence of freak weather incidents is another. But one of the more scatological methods involves studying where the Rock Hyrax (a furry, guinea pig-sized mammal that lives in rock crevices in Africa and Asia) urinates. They tend to stay put for generations, with each wave of parents teaching their young where to relieve themselves. As all that urine dries up, it collects pollen, leaves, grass, and air bubbles that capture the atmospheric history of Earth's changing climate. Brian Chase of Montpelier University and his colleagues have studies this urine deposits, finding that places where the Rock Hyrax lives were greatly effected by glacier retreats in the last Ice Age. "This had a huge local impact in northern Europe but we did not know how the rest of the planet was affected," says Chase. "Thanks to rock hyrax urine from the period, we have an answer. There was significant cooling in South Africa, and presumably the rest of the planet, at the time." [Ars Technica]

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