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.

Rare gray whale birth caught on camera: A whale-watching group in southern California has seen one of the rarest sights in the ocean, the birth of a gray whale calf. This could be the first time that this has ever been caught on camera.

As the group watched a lone female on January 2, she started acting unusually. Then blood started to appear in the water. Onlookers initially thought it was a shark attack, but soon afterward, a small calf surfaced to take in its first gulp of air.

The calf was approximately 4.5m long and was much darker than its mother. After the birth, they swam alongside each other. The mother often pushed the calf to the surface so it could breathe. The calf quickly tired when swimming, so the mother allowed the calf to rest on top of her.

This birth was unusual not only because of the witnesses present but because gray whales usually give birth in the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. Here, the water is warmer, and there are fewer predators.

Now, what about Noah’s Ark?

Scientists can’t ignore tales of ancient floods: In the 19th century, travel writer Henry David Inglis visited the island of Jersey. There, locals told him that thousands of years earlier, the island had been much larger and that residents could walk to France. They just had to cross a river over a short bridge. Inglis ignored the stories and said the claims were ridiculous.

Yet around the world, many local stories of floods in the distant past exist. In Australia, dozens of Indigenous stories speak of geological changes to its coastline. They tell of times when the Wellesley Islands and Kangaroo Island were connected to the mainland.

Researchers are now looking twice at these tales of ancient floods. Between 6,000 and 15,000 years ago, for example, melting glaciers could have caused the sea level rise that turned Jersey into an island.

“These stories are anecdotes, but enough anecdotes make for data,” said paleoclimatologist Jo Brendryen.

An aerial view of the viking hall foundations

Photo: Nordjyske Museer/Smithsonian


Archaeologists unearth Viking Hall in Denmark: A large structure that dates between the late 9th and early 11th century has turned up in Denmark. Researchers suspect that it was a community hall for political gatherings in the late Viking Age.

The structure is 40 meters long and 8 to 10 meters wide. It has 10 to 12 oak posts that would have held up a roof. It is similar to other Viking halls from Denmark.

There is also a chance that the building was the farm of a powerful Viking family. A rune stone found nearby reads “Hove, Thorkild, Thorbjørn set their father Runulv den Radsnilde’s stone”.

“It is difficult to prove that the found Viking hall belonged to the family of Runulv den Radsnildes but it is certainly a possibility,” said archaeologist Thomas Knudsen. “If nothing else, the rune stone and hall represent the same social class, and both belong to society’s elite.”

Other mammals raise their voices, too

Dolphins shout to get heard: Dolphins and other marine mammals rely on vocalizations for survival. They use whistles and echolocation to hunt, communicate and find partners for reproduction. Yet noise pollution from shipping and other human activity has increased dramatically.

To try and make themselves heard over the din, dolphins have started to increase the volume and frequency of their calls. But new studies show that this is not helping. When they have to “shout” at each other over background noise, the dolphins struggled to work together successfully.

Fossil flower of Symplocos kowalewskii encased in amber

Fossil flower encased in amber. Photo: Carola Radke/Museum für Naturkunde Berlin/Scientific American


The largest flower encased in amber: Fossilization takes millions of years and usually favors bones, teeth, and shells. But the presence of tree resin can preserve delicate tissue that is usually lost. The resin turns into amber and perfectly protects whatever it has encased.

Researchers have found a 40-million-year-old preserved flower in a museum that had been overlooked. It is two centimeters wide and is the largest flower ever found in amber. It comes from around the Baltic Sea and has been identified as Stewartia kowalewskii.

A pollen grain extracted from the flower closely resembles pollen from small evergreen shrubs in Asia that produce yellow and white blossoms. 


There’s a new top predator along the Arctic coast: In the Arctic, polar bears (a marine mammal) have long been considered the only apex predator. But by looking into the benthic zone of the ocean, researchers have found another, less obvious top predator, sea stars.

These two distinct but interconnected subwebs “shift our view of how the coastal Arctic marine food web works,” said marine ecologist Remi Amiraux.

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.