Science News for the Science Classroom
This week’s update brings us news on new species of whale, deep-water cold-loving corals, and the threats to penguin populations. Several of these articles are from our recent Facebook marine biology (#marinebiology) theme week.
New Species of Beaked Whale Discovered
Beaked whales are some of the most enigmatic mammals in the world. Distantly related to the sperm whale, they are notable for their elongated, toothed “beaks” and their capacity to spend over an hour underwater. However, their deep-diving habits make them seldom encountered by humans, and to this day are relatively unknown.
Mesoplodon hotaula is the latest member of this kind of whale to be discovered. The first specimen was found in 1963, but was confused with another, similar beaked whale species. Today, genetic testing has proved both the original specimen and six other beaked whales to be a member of this new species.
Coral Reef off Greenland Coast
People usually think of coral reefs as belonging to warm, tropical waters off the equator. While the presence of “cold water reefs” near Norway and Iceland partially disprove this idea, until now a coral reef has not been found in so inhospitable of conditions as the coast of Greenland.
This new coral reef is allowed to flourish in part do to the gulf stream, which raises the temperature of the water by an average of four degrees, and the strong currents that prevail of Greenland’s coasts. The Greenland reef lies at a depth beyond the reach of the sun’s rays, forcing the local coral to eat smaller fish for energy.
Triassic Swamp Monster Fossil
230 million years ago, Texas was far from the dusty, dry state it is today. Jungles and swamps stretched across the modern southwest, and in those swamps lived phytosaurs: giant, crocodile-like creatures that died off in an unknown mass extinction event 200 million years ago.
Machaeroprosopus lottorum is the newest discovered species of this ancient kind of reptile. At between 16 and 18 feet long, Machaeroprosopus lottorum was a true lake monster, feasting on prehistoric fish and small dinosaurs that strayed too close to the banks of the swamps and lakes this phytosaur called home.
Climate Change Decimating Penguin Populations
Penguins are proving to be particularly venerable to the effects of climate change. Two ongoing studies, one at Punta Tomba, Argentina, and the other at Ross Island, Antartica, are highlighting the birds’ uncertain futures.
Punta Tomba, Argentina is the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins. As climate change progresses, an increasing number of rainstorms and heatwaves are causing massive amounts of Magellanic chicks- an average of 65% each year- to die of starvation. Adelie penguins at Ross Island, meanwhile, seem to be adapting to changing ice conditions better than many other penguin species, yet they too face starvation as more and more large icebergs reduce their chance of catching fish.
Scientists at Punta Tomba warn that, if climate change continues to accelerate, Magellanic chicks may no longer be able to survive the breeding season. Researchers at Ross Island are not much more optimistic, claiming that it will be “very hard to predict how penguin populations with buffer future sea ice changes”.