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Boat Carrying 600 Gallons of Oil Sinks off the Galápagos

Energy

A barge containing 600 gallons of diesel fuel sank off the Galápagos Islands Sunday, prompting fears for the island chain's unique wildlife.


The oil spill occurred off San Cristóbal Island when workers were attempting to load a shipping container onto a barge called the Orca, The New York Times reported. A video shared on social media shows the container falling onto the boat, pulling the crane holding it with it and tipping the boat on its side as people dive off. One was injured, DW reported.

"The illegal and dangerous logistics operation carried out on the dock must be moved to another site," conservation group SOS Galápagos tweeted Sunday. The group also warned the oil would reach a popular tourist beach, CBS News reported.

Authorities declared an emergency and began an investigation into the spill, The New York Times reported. Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment shared pictures on social media of cleanup efforts undertaken by the Coast Guard and Galápagos National Park.

So far, these efforts have paid off. Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno said on Twitter Monday that the spill was under control.

"Not a single species has been affected by the spill in San Cristóbal," Ecuador's Environment Minister Raul Ledesma said, DW reported Tuesday.

He said veterinarians had tested several iguanas and two sea lions near the spill site and found they had not been affected.

However, authorities are still worried about what could happen if they do not recover the oil tanks that sank.

"We are very concerned about the recovery work of the tanks because there could be a potential spill if it is not done efficiently and swiftly," Ledesma said.

The Galápagos are home to unique species not found anywhere else on the planet, according to CNN. The islands' unique wildlife and ecosystems helped Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution, and the chain is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In 2001, a much worse oil spill poured 150,000 gallons of fuel into the water when a tanker hit a reef off San Cristóbal. While most of the oil was blown out to sea, the population of marine iguanas fell from 25,000 to 10,000 on the island of Santa Fe after the spill, The New York Times reported.

Oil spills aren't the only way that fossil fuels threaten the Galápagos: UNESCO says their reefs are extremely vulnerable to the climate crisis.

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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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