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Another Beluga Dies at the Vancouver Aquarium, Just Days After Her Baby

Animals
Another Beluga Dies at the Vancouver Aquarium, Just Days After Her Baby

The Vancouver Aquarium is back in the spotlight this week, following the death of another beluga who died shortly after losing her calf.

Sally Anderson / Flickr

Just over a week ago, a 21-year-old beluga named Qila died of causes that are still unknown. Shortly after, her 29-year-old mother Aurora started showing the same symptoms Qila exhibited and was reported to have suffered from abdominal cramping, a loss of appetite and lethargy.

Sadly, despite receiving round-the-clock care from veterinarians and staff, she also passed away. According to the aquarium, the cause of their deaths is still being investigated, but it's suspected that they were caused by a virus or toxin.

Aurora's passing adds to the growing death toll for captive belugas and the tragedy of her loss is only compounded by life she experienced. Not only did she lose her freedom, she watched three of her babies die during her time in Vancouver.

Qila was Aurora's first born. Tuvaq, her second, who was a male, was born in 2002 and died in 2005. Nala, her third, was born in 2009, but died just a year later.

Qila herself also gave birth to one calf, Tiqa, in 2008, but just three years later she was also dead.

The ongoing mistreatment of belugas and continued attempts to breed them landed the Vancouver Aquarium on In Defense of Animals' (IDA) first annual list of the 10 Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales in North America over the summer.

While the Vancouver Aquarium owns five other belugas who are on loan to marine parks in the U.S., there are now no belugas at the aquarium and organizations including IDA and the Vancouver Humane Society, and the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are calling on the aquarium to shut down its cetacean exhibits forever.

"Aurora and Qilas' horrific deaths should be a wake-up call for Vancouver," said IDA's cetacean scientist, Dr. Toni Frohoff. "Even the most modern technology, veterinary care and infrastructure could not help Aurora, Qila or the many other belugas who have suffered and died in captivity. It's time to stop exploiting these intelligent and sensitive animals and close Vancouver's dying pools for good."

Following Qila's death, the head of Vancouver's park board announced she was going to formally propose bringing the issue of captive cetaceans to voters during the next civic election in 2018. Animal advocates are hopeful that move could potentially stop an expansion of the aquarium's current beluga exhibit, which is expected to start early next year and will ultimately keep belugas out permanently.

For more on efforts to retire whales and dolphins who are currently in captivity to sea sanctuaries, check out the Whale Sanctuary Project and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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