TIME

The BP Oil Spill Killed a Lot of Dolphins

Lung and adrenal lesions were found on dead dolphins

The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 had a deadly effect on at least one ocean dweller: bottlenose dolphins.

A new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday said lung and adrenal lesions found on dead bottlenose dolphins that were stranded along the Gulf coast from June 2010 through December 2012 are consistent with the effects of exposure to petroleum products after an oil spill.

The report supports earlier studies that suggested a link between the oil spill that gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over the course of 87 days and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

BP recently settled claims with oil services provider Halliburton and contract driller Transocean related to the spill.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME A Year In Space

Watch the SpaceX Dragon Leave the Space Station

A seemingly routine maneuver is a lot more complicated than it looks

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is easy in space, and that includes leaving it, as the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) will be reminded on Thursday morning, May 21, when the Dragon cargo vessel undocks and heads home—a maneuver TIME will live-stream via NASA beginning at 6:45 a.m. ET. Dragon, the 24-ft. (7.3 m) cargo vehicle built by SpaceX, arrived at the ISS on April 17 carrying 5,200 lbs (2,360 kg) of cargo. It is returning after a five-week stay, bringing home 3,100 (1,400 kg) different lbs. of stuff—some of it trash, but a lot of it scientific samples that are part of the extensive biomedical studies being conducted on astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Misha Kornienko as they spend a marathon year in space.

No spacecraft leaving the ISS can simply cast off and go. Ever since the long-ago joint mission of Gemini VI and Gemini VII, 50 years ago this December, when the two manned spacecraft maneuvered to within inches of each other, NASA has appreciated the delicate dance involved when any two orbiting objects come anywhere near each other. Moving along at a matching 17,500 mph (28,160 k/g), the ships are effectively motionless relative to each other. If one adds even the tiniest bit of speed that the other one doesn’t match—going to, say 17,505 mph—the result can be a fender bender.

For that reason, the Dragon departure will be a process that will consume a whole morning’s work. Before 7 a.m., the station’s 58 ft. (17.6 m) robotic arm will grapple the Dragon, which will decouple from its berth on the station’s Harmony module. The arm will carry the Dragon as far from the station as it can, and Kelly, who will be controlling the operation from aboard, will give the signal for its release at 7:04 a.m. Over the course of the next four hours and 45 minutes, the Dragon will fire its thrusters three separate times, edging further away from the station until, at 11:49 a.m., it reaches the precise spot in its orbit to begin a reentry burn that will carry it to a Pacific splashdown at 12:42 p.m.

The station has been serviced by milk runs like these many times in the 15 years it has been continually occupied and there will be a lot more to come in the decade or so of service it has left to it. It’s a measure of the complexity of the up and down trips that they take so much planning and such deft execution; it’s a measure of the people doing the executing that the maneuvers can actually, after a time, seem routine.

TIME human behavior

Researchers Unlock the Secret Behind Successful Hitmen

They all share a very particular personality trait

Successful contract killers are people who are able to see what they do purely as a job, according to a new study published by researchers at England’s Birmingham City University.

According to the study’s findings, hitmen tend to operate best when they’re able to compartmentalize and detach themselves from their victims’ humanity, regarding killing as simply a means to a profitable end.

The researchers behind the study, leading criminologists Professor David Wilson and Mohammed Rahman, point to the Irish Republican Army’s infamous hired gun Jimmy Moody as a paragon of the profession.

Moody, despite having no political affiliation to the militant group, succeeded in large part, Rahman argues, because he was able to separate his grisly work from other aspects of his life.

“Moody reframed his victims as targets, seeing getting the job done as a normal business activity,” said Rahman. “These sorts of killers are akin to ‘criminal undertakers’, who have given themselves ‘special liberty’ to get things done in the name of business.”

TIME animals

Scientists Link Dolphin Deaths in Gulf to 2010 BP Oil Spill

In this photo taken May 10, 2015, a dead dolphin washes ashore in the Gulf of Mexico on Grand Isle, La.
Cain Burdeau—AP In this photo taken May 10, 2015, a dead dolphin washes ashore in the Gulf of Mexico on Grand Isle, La.

BP claims the dolphins were likely suffering from common respiratory illnesses

(NEW ORLEANS) — In a new study, a team of scientists says there’s a definite link between the massive BP oil spill in 2010 and a record number of dolphin deaths along the northern Gulf of Mexico.

The scientists on Wednesday said large numbers of dead bottlenose dolphins found along shores since the spill suffered from lung and adrenal lesions caused by swimming in oil-contaminated seas.

The research paper backs up previous findings linking dolphin deaths to the oil spill. The study involved federal scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

BP has rejected the contention linking the deaths to the oil spill. Instead, it said, the dolphins were likely suffering from common respiratory illnesses.

The new study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE.

With the release of the study, researchers and federal government made the most direct link yet between the spill and the dolphin deaths.

“No feasible alternative causes remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of these distinct lesions and increase in deaths,” said Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead researcher with National Marine Mammal Foundation.

From 2002 to 2009, the Gulf averaged 63 dolphin deaths a year. That rose to 125 in the seven months after the spill in 2010 and 335 in all of 2011, averaging more than 200 a year since April 2010.

That’s the longest and largest dolphin die-off ever recorded in the Gulf. The number of deaths has started to decline, according to federal scientists.

Researchers said oil contamination caused chronic adrenal problems for dolphins and this in turn hurt their chances of surviving cold temperatures, infections and bacterial pneumonia. Also, the dolphins suffering from oil contamination had problems with pregnancy.

Venn-Watson said dolphins were vulnerable to oil contamination because they take deep breaths at the sea’s surface — the same place where oil sheens covered the Gulf following the spill.

“Dolphins were swimming into the oil,” she said. “Their lungs are large, they take big deep breaths at the water’s surface and hold it for extended periods of time.”

The study looked at 46 dead dolphins found in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama between June 2010 and December 2012. Researchers tested lung and adrenal gland tissues.

The study looked at 22 dead dolphins found in Barataria Bay, a heavily oiled water body south of New Orleans where researchers first began noticing and tracking dolphin deaths after the spill.

Venn-Watson said further studies would be needed to track and monitor the long-term effects of the contamination on the dolphin populations.

BP questioned the validity of the study because it was based on what it termed “just a small sample set” of dolphins. The company accused the federal government of not releasing in a timely manner hundreds of necropsies.

“This new paper fails to show that the illnesses observed in some dolphins were caused by exposure to Macondo oil,” said Geoff Morrell, a BP spokesman.

Morrell said BP was “unaware of any toxicological studies linking lung disease in bottlenose dolphins to exposure to oil or other environmental contaminants.”

BP’s Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, leading to deadly explosions aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the nation’s largest offshore oil spill.

The federal government used a team of scientists to calculate that about 172 million gallons spilled into the Gulf. BP put the number much lower, closer to 100 million gallons.

TIME Archaeology

Oldest Known Stone Tools Discovered in Kenya

This undated photo made available May 20, 2015 by the Mission Prehistorique au Kenya - West Turkana Archaeological Project shows the excavation of a stone tool found in the West Turkana area of Kenya.
MPK-WTAP/AP This undated photo made available May 20, 2015 by the Mission Prehistorique au Kenya - West Turkana Archaeological Project shows the excavation of a stone tool found in the West Turkana area of Kenya.

The tools are about 3.3 million years old

Researchers who stumbled upon stone tools in Kenya in 2011 revealed in a new paper that they are now considered the oldest ones ever found.

The discovery in West Turkana—after researchers apparently took a wrong turn—was chronicled in the journal Nature by co-authors Jason Lewis and Sonia Harmand of Stone Brook University. The paper explains that the tools are about 3.3 million years old, or 700,000 years older than ones that researchers had previously discovered, making them some half-a-million years older before the known emergence of modern humans.

“It just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true,” Chris Lepre, a geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University who dated the tools, told the Guardian. Alison Brooks, an anthropology professor at George Washington University who examined some of the tools, told the Associated Press, “It really absolutely moves the beginnings of human technology back into a much more distant past, and a much different kind of ancestor than we’ve been thinking of.”

TIME Environment

Louisiana Black Bear Is No Longer Endangered

In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, La.
Gerald Herbert—AP In this May 17, 2015 photo, a Louisiana Black Bear, sub-species of the black bear that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, is seen in a water oak tree in Marksville, La.

The bear is the original inspiration for the "Teddy Bear"

The Louisiana black bear is set to be removed from the endangered species list, the U.S. Department of Interior announced.

The bear, which was the original inspiration for the “Teddy Bear,” has been the focus of conservation efforts for more than 20 years. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that because of that conservation push, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed that the Louisiana black bear no longer be listed as endangered.

“Across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, we have worked together with our partners to protect and restore habitat, reintroduce populations and reduce the threats to the bear,” Jewell said in a press release.

“Today’s recovery of the bear is yet another success story of the Endangered Species Act.”

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Anti-Littering Campaign Uses DNA From Trash to Shame People

Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year

A Hong Kong environmental group has turned to public shaming to end the city’s litter problem. The Hong Kong Cleanup Initiative used DNA collected from discarded cigarette butts, gum and condoms to create renderings of the faces of people who left their trash, the South China Morning Post reported.

The Face of Litter campaign, which launched on Earth Day, has created 27 facial composites of litterers and splashed them across billboards around the city. The samples came from a six-week challenge in which teams collected more than 4,000 tons of litter from streets. Advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather came up with the idea to shame litterers and enlisted a laboratory to analyze samples. The company says that the DNA samples provide enough information to accurately predict ethnicity as well as eye, hair and skin color.

Hong Kong produces more than 6.5 million tons of trash each year, much of which ends up on the streets and coastlines, according to the initiative.

[Morning Post]

TIME Japan

Japanese Aquariums to Stop Buying Dolphins From Town Criticized for Mass Animal Killings

Fishermen trapping a group of dolphins in a holding cove following a large capture of dolphins in Taiji, Japan in 2007.
Lars Nicolaysen—EPA Fishermen trapping a group of dolphins in a holding cove following a large capture of dolphins in Taiji, Japan in 2007.

"This momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan"

A group of Japanese aquariums voted to stop purchasing dolphins from the town of Taiji after an international zoo and aquarium organization condemned the town’s annual tradition of killing hundreds of dolphins and other marine mammals.

Most of the members of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums voted Wednesday to remain affiliated with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which will require them to stop getting dolphins from Taiji, the Guardian reports. The vote came nearly a month after WAZA suspended its Japanese members for acquiring Taiji dolphins. Leaving the group would have prevented Japanese zoos and aquariums from acquiring some rare animals from their counterparts in other parts of the world.

The Pacific coast town of Taiji is known for its fishermen who trap dolphins and then kill them to sell their meat, a practice widely condemned as brutal. Fishermen also capture a small number for sale at zoos and aquariums.

“This momentous decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan,” Australia for Dolphins chief executive Sarah Lucas told the Guardian. “Without demand, the hunts won’t continue. It is the first major step towards ending the Taiji dolphin hunts once and for all.”

[Guardian]

TIME animals

Panda Poop Suggests They Shouldn’t Eat Their Favorite Food of Bamboo

A photo taken on April 1, 2014 shows the giant panda Hao Hao eating bamboo at Pairi Daiza animal park in Brugelette, Belgium.
Virginie Lefour—AFP/Getty Images A photo taken on April 1, 2014 shows the giant panda Hao Hao eating bamboo at Pairi Daiza animal park in Brugelette, Belgium.

After 14 hours of eating bamboo, only 17% is digested

Giant pandas may be reliant on a highly specialized diet of bamboo, but new research suggests they are not actually very good at digesting their favorite meal.

Scientists in China discovered that, unlike most herbivores, a panda’s gut bacteria has not evolved to match its diet and remains more akin its omnivorous bear cousins.

The team took 121 fecal samples from 45 giant pandas — 24 adults, 16 juveniles and five cubs — and compared these with data from a previous study, which included seven wild pandas. Both studies indicated that the bears do not have plant-degrading bacteria like Ruminococcaceae and Bacteroides.

“This result is unexpected and quite interesting, because it implies the giant panda’s gut microbiota may not have well adapted to its unique diet, and places pandas at an evolutionary dilemma,” said Xiaoyan Pang, a co-author of the study in a press release.

The scientists also discovered that gut bacteria in late Autumn is quite different from spring and summer — which they hypothesize may be a result of the lack of bamboo shoots in the fall.

Pandas spend up to 14 hours per day consuming bamboo but only digest about 17% of their meal.

China’s most famous animal evolved from a species that ate both meat and plants and began to consume almost exclusively bamboo around 2 million years ago.

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