Science Links of the Week

A passion for the natural world drives many of our adventures. And when we’re not outside, we love delving into discoveries about the places we live and travel. Here are some of the best natural history links we’ve found this week.

Cold-stunned sea turtles flown to safety: In Massachusetts, the cold stranded 43 sea turtles, which had bcome very weak in temperatures below 50°F.

Marine charities rescued all of the stranded animals and provided initial care before splitting the turtles between multiple wildlife rehabilitation facilities. Nonprofit Turtles Fly Too arranged a flight to relocate the turtles. Twenty went to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, 15 went to the South Carolina Aquarium, and eight went to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

The turtles are slowly being warmed up so that their body and water temperatures match. If the temperature rises too quickly, it can stress or shock the turtles. Once strong enough, the animals will be released back into the wild. 

Paying for ocean cleanup

Indonesia is paying fishermen to pick up plastic: Indonesia’s fisheries ministry has started a new initiative to cut plastic pollution. Fishermen on all the country’s major islands will be offered 150,000 rupiahs (approximately $10) per week to collect at least four kilograms of plastic from the water.

Indonesia is a significant contributor to plastic waste entering the ocean. Over the next three years, they want to reduce this by 70%.

A blue hole formed by hurricanes

A blue hole. Photo: Shutterstock


Decoding ancient hurricanes: When hurricanes come close to land, they create powerful waves that sweep sand and gravel into marshes, coastal ponds, and lagoons. Researchers can collect sediment cores from these areas to map hurricane activity over thousands of years.

One team is studying the history of Atlantic hurricanes. They are collecting samples from across the U.S. to create decade-to-century patterns of hurricane frequency. Samples from the Bahamas provide almost annual information, showing a long-term picture of the Atlantic Basin. Islands here are particularly vulnerable because the majority of North Atlantic storms pass over or near the islands.

Researchers can pair sediment data with data on water temperatures, currents, global wind patterns, and atmospheric pressure to decipher how all of these factors affect hurricane frequency. The best locations for studying past hurricanes are blue holes and near-shore sinkholes. The Bahamas have thousands of them. Their vertical walls trap sediment and have little oxygen. This preserves the organic matter. 

Lizard ancestor turns up in museum cupboard

The fossil of the newly analyzed lizard alongside the 3D image created

The fossil of the newly analyzed lizard alongside the 3D image created. Photo: Natural History Museum/Bristol University


Lizards are millions of years older than we thought: You don’t always need to be in the field to make a great new archaeological discovery. A fossil found in a cupboard of London’s Natural History Museum has added millions of years to the evolutionary tale of lizards. This fossil of an unknown reptile is closely related to modern-day lizards.

Scientists previously thought that lizards originated in the later middle-Jurassic period. This fossil places them on Earth 35 million years earlier, in the late Triassic period. The fossil will “likely become one of the most important found in the last few decades,” researcher David Whiteside said. The discovery will change the estimates of when all snakes and lizards originated.

The team took X-rays of the fossil and then reconstructed a 3D image of what the reptile would have looked like. It was this that showed them the specimen was more closely related to squamates (lizards and snakes) than to the Tuatara group it was initially thought to belong to. 

Elite net burglars

Dolphins have elite spice tolerance: Across the oceans, fishermen try to find ways to stop dolphins from eating their catch. Dolphins are frequent net burglars and methods such as noise makers have had very little effect.

Researchers in Greece decided to return to basics. They coated nets in a resin laced with capsaicin, the compound that makes chili peppers spicy. The method has been used to deter multiple species of land animals with great success. The unpleasant spicy taste is usually enough to ward them off.

However, after five months, the spicy nets have had no effect at all. The bottlenose dolphins that interact with them are completely unfazed. The dolphins still spent a significant amount of time methodically tearing holes in the nets and eating their fill.

Researchers are now trying to figure out why dolphins are immune to spice. Many cetaceans only have one of the five primary tastes: salty. So it is possible they do not have the sensory cells to taste the hot pepper. Another idea is that these intelligent mammals have found a way to break into the nets with minimal contact.

A pair of bottlenose dolphins swim side by side

Photo: Shutterstock

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.