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- Scientists “Talked” to a Whale to Prepare for E.T.
Scientists “Talked” to a Whale to Prepare for E.T.
Sunday, December 17th, 2023
This week’s core story is about: Talking to whales to understand E.T.
Heads up: The final two Sundays of the year happen to be holidays, so The Bagel will be away until January 7. We’ll also have some exciting updates in the new year! See you in 2024!
KNEAD TO KNOW
Scientists “Talked” to a Whale to Prepare for E.T.
A new study by researchers at the SETI Institute, the University of California, Davis, and the Alaska Whale Foundation describes a 20-minute “conversation” between scientists and a humpback whale named Twain, potentially providing insights into how humans may one day communicate with extraterrestrial life.
The study was led by the Whale-SETI team, which, similar to studying Antarctica as a proxy for Mars, has been studying humpback whale communication in an effort to develop “intelligence filters” that could be applied to extraterrestrial signals.
The team chose humpback whales because of their intricate communication system, which includes a variety of vocalizations, like songs, social calls, and signals for particular situations, and therefore offers a unique opportunity to study intelligent communication in non-human species.
To “talk” to a whale, the researchers sailed a boat off the coast of Alaska and played a humpback “contact call” (essentially a greeting) via an underwater speaker to see if any whales would respond.
In response to the call, an adult female named Twain approached and circled the team’s boat.
Over the 20-minute study period, the team played the same contact call 36 times at different intervals. Twain responded to each call and matched the timing between each signal, responding in what the researchers describe as an intentional “conversational style.”
“We believe this is the first such communicative exchange between humans and humpback whales in the humpback ‘language,’” said lead author Brenda McCowan.
Why it matters:
The Whale-SETI team hopes to develop and perfect their intelligence filters as part of the Institute’s work to search for and make contact with alien life, telling Business Insider that humans could miss extraterrestrial attempts to communicate if we don’t know what signals to look for or how to interpret them.
“There are diverse intelligences on this planet, and by studying them, we can better understand what an alien intelligence might be like, because they're not going to be exactly like ours,” said McCowan.
The Arctic Is Melting Before Our Eyes
A new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found surface air temperatures in the Arctic this past summer (July through September) were the warmest on record (dating back to 1900), averaging 43 degrees Fahrenheit (6.4 degrees Celsius). The findings are part of NOAA’s annual Arctic Report Card, which includes the work of 82 authors from 13 countries.
The report also found the average surface air temperature in the Arctic over the past year (October 2022 to September 2023) was the sixth warmest on record at 20°F (-7°C), while sea ice extent continued to decline as the last 17 Septembers (2007 to 2023) now register as the lowest extents on record.
“The overriding message from this year’s report card is that the time for action is now,” said NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad. “We as a nation and global community must dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are driving these changes.”
Both Liberals and Conservatives Believe the U.S. Has Moved Away from Their Own Politics
A new survey by YouGov asked Americans about the political changes they see in the U.S. over the past decade, finding 30% of U.S. adults said the country’s politics have moved to the left, while 26% say they’ve moved to the right. Similar shares (22% each) believe they’ve stayed the same or aren’t sure.
The survey found views diverged sharply based on politics, with 44% of self-identified liberals saying the U.S. has moved further to the right, while 55% of conservatives said it’s moved further to the left. Just 16% of liberals and 15% of conservatives believe the country has moved further toward their own political views.
Regarding personal views, 49% of respondents said their politics have remained the same over the past decade, while 19% said they’ve become more conservative and 18% said they’ve become more liberal.
Scientists Discovered a Possible Cause of Morning Sickness
A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. identified a possible cause of morning sickness during pregnancy: a hormone produced by the fetus called GDF15.
The study found the degree of sickness experienced by a pregnant mother is related to both the amount of GDF15 sent to her bloodstream by the fetus and how much exposure they had to the hormone before becoming pregnant. Mothers with less exposure and normally lower levels of GDF15 have a higher risk of severe nausea and vomiting than those with more exposure before becoming pregnant.
The researchers say their work could inform the development of future treatments for morning sickness, including potentially exposing mothers to GDF15 prior to pregnancy to build up their tolerance and prevent illness.
OUTSIDE THE LOX
Cats Eat a Surprising Number of Species
A new study by researchers at Auburn University develops a comprehensive global assessment of the species eaten by free-ranging domestic cats, identifying 2,084 consumed species, of which 347 (17%) are of conservation concern.
To “evaluate the potential threat of cats,” the researchers analyzed more than 530 studies spanning the past century, compiling what appears to be the largest database of cat diets to date.
The researchers found birds, reptiles, and mammals comprise around 90% of the consumed species, with approximately 9% of all known birds, 6% of known mammals, and 4% of known reptiles identified in cat diets.
“We don’t really know of any other mammal that eats this many different species,” lead author Christopher Lepczyk told Scientific American. “It’s almost like an indiscriminate eater; they’re eating whatever’s available.”
The findings suggest cats are an “extreme generalist predator,” which can threaten biodiversity and cause population decline, particularly in regions with native fauna that can’t withstand cats’ fierce predation.
653,104 - The number of people across the U.S. who experienced homelessness on a single night in January 2023, according to a new report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The figure, equivalent to roughly 20 out of every 100,000 people in the U.S., represents the highest number of people reported as experiencing homelessness in the U.S. since reporting began in 2007.
83% - The percentage of U.S. adults who say the spread of false and inaccurate information is a “major problem” in the U.S., according to a new survey by KFF. The figure is relatively unchanged from June, and includes 88% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans.
44,016 - The number of species worldwide that are currently threatened with extinction, according to a new update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The update, which includes around 2,000 more threatened species than last year’s update, also includes the first global assessment of freshwater fish, finding 25% are at risk of extinction.
$53 billion - The amount of U.S. federal pandemic relief funds that went to arts and entertainment, according to a new report by researchers at Southern Methodist University. The report found the amount of pandemic relief funding that went to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations was twice the total amount of federal funding given to arts and entertainment over the past 24 years (2000 to 2023).
Long Video. Take a look at Real Madrid’s $1 billion stadium upgrade. (13 min)
Short Video. Learn about the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora and the year without a summer. (6 min)
Fun Video. There are bits of evolutionary evidence all over our bodies. (4 min)
Good Read. Read about the human right to science enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (1,161 words; 6 min)
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Written by Ryan Wittler