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Noise Pollution Forces Whales and Dolphins From Their Homes
By Jason Bittel
Waves lap at motionless heaps of blubber and fins and the sun bears down on chapped skin. Gulls start to, well, do what gulls do. This heartbreaking scene happened in January when nearly 100 false killer whales became stranded along a remote shore in the Florida Everglades.
Authorities tried to steer the cetaceans back out to sea, but most were too exhausted or too entangled in the mangroves to make the last-ditch effort. In the end, more than 80 of the whales died. Just a few months later, a similar tragedy played out on the coast of New Zealand, this time with hundreds of pilot whales.
When a single whale beaches itself, the cause is thought to be injury, illness or old age. But when dozens or even hundreds, of the animals come ashore at once, scientists think something more is at play. While no one can say definitively what causes mass strandings, a growing body of research seems to point to one trigger.
According to a study published last month in the Journal of Experimental Biology, noise pollution such as ship traffic and seismic testing may force marine mammals to exhaust more energy on their dives than usual. This is particularly bad news because today our oceans are noisier than ever.
The oil and gas industry searches for its next score using giant air-gun explosions beneath the surface. And when fossil fuels are found, the drills used to extract them create even more of a din. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy sends far-reaching sonar into the sea day and night as part of routine monitoring and training exercises. Furthermore, every ship that isn't powered by wind adds to the undersea clatter with its generators, propellers and engines. Making matters worse, sound travels much farther in water than it does in air, which means each aural insult can radiate outward for miles and miles from its source.
"For whales, dolphins and other marine life, industrial and military noise is a death of a thousand cuts," said Michael Jasny, a marine mammal expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It degrades their foraging, keeps them from finding potential mates, silences them and drives them from their homes. Human noise has emerged as a major environmental threat and there is virtually no corner of the ocean that is free of it."
The study's lead author, Terrie Williams, has been studying this problem for more than a dozen years as a wildlife eco-physiologist. When she started, very little was known about what was going on inside marine mammals that might be causing their mysterious, untimely deaths. That changed when wildlife veterinarian Paul Jepson published a 2003 study in Nature that found gas bubbles in the livers of stranded cetaceans. That would indicate decompression illness or the bends.
As you know, whales and dolphins breathe air at the surface and dive below for food and travel. In order to adjust between the two environments, they have what's called a diving response or reflex, which allows the body to shift its physiological priorities from what works best in air to what works best underwater. When down below, for instance, the heart rate lowers, blood vessels constrict and blood flow slows down. So for them to fall victim to decompression is definitely odd. "It seemed impossible," said Williams, "due to all of the biological safeguards that marine mammals have in place for diving without injury."
However, the bubbles in stranded whales' livers showed that the dive response doesn't always work. Williams wondered whether that diving response was less automatic than previously thought.
Through a new technology that Williams and her team invented, the researchers were able to place a device on diving dolphins to monitor second-by-second changes in heart rate, stroking mechanics and depth changes. The scientists learned that a marine mammal's diving response is related to both the depth to which it dives and the amount of exertion it takes to get there. This was really important, said Williams, because it showed that the movement of nitrogen and oxygen throughout the animal's body is not set in stone. That is, a whale or a dolphin might be able to dive safely in one scenario but not in another.
The next step was to prove that an outside factor, such as noise pollution, could possibly push the animal's physiology from its normal, safe diving state to a more rushed and risky kind of dive. This is where Williams's most recent research comes in.
Working in a deep pool aquarium, Williams and her colleagues trained retired military dolphins to wear the cetacean equivalent of Fitbits. The dolphins were taught to navigate through an underwater obstacle course at both a regular pace and a faster, escape-like pace to simulate both kinds of dives. The animals then surfaced under a sealed hood that measured the mammals' exhalations. In other words, Williams wanted to know "how much of the internal oxygen scuba tank is used during a dive by a dolphin, especially if it is trying to escape oceanic noise."
Predictably, the scientists found that it cost dolphins about twice as much physiologically to perform escape dives as opposed to dives at regular speed.
Marine mammals, of course, are not all the same. Whales are built differently from dolphins and even between whale species, body shape and dive adaptations vary. (Just think about the differences between a sperm whale and a blue whale). The scientists also had to account for the fact that larger animals require more energy to start moving but need less energy to keep all that blubber cruising once they reach higher speeds.
Fortunately, the researchers were able to make use of other studies that placed accelerometers on various whale species to measure dive times and depths. Using those data, they came up with a formula that allowed them to estimate the costs of swimming fast and slow for various types of cetaceans.
As a proof of concept, Williams and company applied their findings to the Cuvier's beaked whale, which may grow to 23 feet long and 5,500 pounds and is known for making dives of nearly two miles in depth—deeper than any other mammal. Perhaps most important, beaked whales have already been shown to be extra sensitive to noise pollution. In one 2011 study, scientists found that Blainsville's beaked whales stopped echolocating during dives when navy sonar was present and then avoided the source of the sound for two to three days. What's more, several other studies have shown a correlation between navy sonar exercises and beaked whale strandings.
So what happened when they crunched the numbers for Cuvier's beaked whales? The scientists estimated that a beaked whale may have to ratchet up its metabolic rate by more than 30 percent in order to escape oceanic noise quickly—and that's in response to a single sound event. Imagine how those energy costs might add up across repeated run-ins with acoustic pollution.
"The implications of this are enormous," said Williams. "Have the animals expended too much of their internal scuba tank? Is there enough oxygen going to their brains when they are trying to exercise at the same time that they are diving?"
These are questions Williams hopes to answer in future experiments as she attempts to establish "that last link" between ocean noise and marine mammal strandings. But with all the evidence she and other scientists have already assembled, it raises the question—how much more do we really need to know before changing our underwater ways?
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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