A sea otter pup found alone in Alaska has a new home at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

A sea otter pup found alone in Alaska has a new home at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

CHICAGO (AP) — An 8-week-old arrival from Alaska chirps loudly before devouring ice chips in the nursery at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.

He is Pup EL2306 — proper name to be determined — a northern sea otter who was found alone and malnourished in the remote town of Seldovia in October and taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.

Shedd, one of only a few facilities in the United States with the resources to care for rescued otters, was contacted by the SeaLife Center and the aquarium’s otter team made the cross-country journey with the fluffy brown marine mammal who arrived in Chicago at the end of November.

“Caring for a little otter pup is just like caring for an infant,” including round-the-clock feeding, said Lana Gonzalez, a manager of penguins and otter at Shedd. “He also needs to get groomed. Sea otters have a very dense coat — there’s anywhere from a 700,000 to a million hairs per square inch, and that’s what they use to keep themselves warm. They don’t have a thick layer of blubber or fat like other marine mammals do, so taking care of that coat is very important.”

An otter mother would typically teach her offspring to groom. The aquarium team acts in her place to encourage the pup’s healthy development.

On Wednesday, otter supervisor Tracy Deakins entered the pup’s enclosure with clean white towels and encouraged him to leave the water. Deakins pointed to different spots on his fur and the pup responded by licking or rubbing it with his paws.

The pup will remain in Shedd’s Regenstein Sea Otter Nursery for a few months, building bonds with the staff, and he will eventually be introduced to the otter habitat and the five other otters at the aquarium.

Part of the growth process is moving pups from formula and small bits of clam to other solid foods. Gonzalez mentions the clam is “restaurant quality” and sustainably sourced.

Rescued pups are usually designated by the federal government as non-releasable and the Shedd experts said pups need their mothers for the first year of life.

“Once we bring him into our care he won’t be released back out into the natural environment, they’re just too used to people. But the good news is that he’ll be able to be an ambassador for his species here at the aquarium, so we’re really happy about that,” said Gonzalez.

Gigantic skull of prehistoric sea monster found on England’s ‘Jurassic Coast’

Gigantic skull of prehistoric sea monster found on England’s ‘Jurassic Coast’

CNN — The remarkably well-preserved skull of a gigantic pliosaur, a prehistoric sea monster, has been discovered on a beach in the county of Dorset in southern England, and it could reveal secrets about these awe-inspiring creatures.

Pliosaurs dominated the oceans at a time when dinosaurs roamed the land. The unearthed fossil is about 150 million years old, almost 3 million years younger than any other pliosaur find. Researchers are analyzing the specimen to determine whether it could even be a species new to science.

Originally spotted in spring 2022, the fossil, along with its complicated excavation and ongoing scientific investigation, are now detailed in the upcoming BBC documentary “Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster,” presented by legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough, that will air February 14 on PBS.

Such was the enormous size of the carnivorous marine reptile that the skull, excavated from a cliff along Dorset’s “Jurassic Coast,” is almost 6.6 feet long. In its fossilized form, the specimen weighs over half a metric ton. Pliosaurs species could grow to 50 feet in length, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The fossil was buried deep in the cliff, about 36 feet above the ground and 49 feet down the cliff, local paleontologist Steve Etches, who helped uncover it, told CNN in a video call.

Extracting it proved a perilous task, one fraught with danger as a crew raced against the clock during a window of good weather before summer storms closed in and the cliff eroded, possibly taking the rare and significant fossil with it.

Etches first learned of the fossil’s existence when his friend Philip Jacobs called him after coming across the pliosaur’s snout on the beach. Right from the start, they were “quite excited, because its jaws closed together which indicates (the fossil) is complete,” Etches said.

After using drones to map the cliff and identify the rest of the pliosaur’s precise position, Etches and his team embarked on a three-week operation, chiseling into the cliff while suspended in midair.

“It’s a miracle we got it out,” he said, “because we had one last day to get this thing out, which we did at 9:30 p.m.”

Etches took on the task of painstakingly restoring the skull. There was a time he found “very disillusioning” as the mud, and bone, had cracked, but “over the following days and weeks, it was a case of …, like a jigsaw, putting it all back. It took a long time but every bit of bone we got back in.”

It’s a “freak of nature” that this fossil remains in such good condition, Etches added. “It died in the right environment, there was a lot of sedimentation … so when it died and went down to the seafloor, it got buried quite quickly.”

TSA’s 2024 canine calendar will melt your travelin’ heart

TSA’s 2024 canine calendar will melt your travelin’ heart

(CNN)- It’s not often that the words “TSA” and “adorable” come together in the same sentence. Long lines, discarded items, a sometimes-grumpy atmosphere – not much to love there.

But those two words are a natural pairing when it comes the Transportation Security Administration’s annual canine calendar. The agency announced its 2024 version on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday – and let’s just say these safety-minded, hard-working pooches are positively precious.

The calendar honors the more than 1,000 explosives-detection canines working across the United States. Adorning the cover is Dina, winner of the 2023 cutest canine contest.

This gal is a 3-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer who works at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. She was “one of several TSA canines who worked at Super Bowl LVII in Phoenix” back in February, according to a TSA news release.

But the doggie love doesn’t stop at the cover. Inside are a year’s worth of dogs starting with Gina-Gina, a regal looking Belgian Malinois that works at LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Actually, there’s more than year’s worth of dogs as the calendar offers up a few bonus canines at the end.

The calendar has plenty of dog factoids, too, such as this from May: “Canines possess a sense of smell more sensitive than even the most advanced man-made instrument. Their sniffers are powerful enough to detect substances at concentrations of one part per trillion—about the same as a single drop of liquid in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.”

Webb telescope captures never-before-seen glimpse of the heart of the Milky Way

Webb telescope captures never-before-seen glimpse of the heart of the Milky Way

CNN — The James Webb Space Telescope has looked into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, unveiling new features and mysteries within the chaotic region that could help astronomers unravel more details about the early universe.

The space observatory’s ability to view the universe in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, captured never-before-seen details in the image, released by NASA on Monday.

Astronomers used Webb to glimpse Sagittarius C, or Sgr C, an active region of star formation located about 300 light-years from the galaxy’s central supermassive black hole Sagittarius A. A light-year, equivalent to 5.88 trillion miles, is how far a beam of light travels in one year.

“The galactic center is the most extreme environment in our Milky Way galaxy, where current theories of star formation can be put to their most rigorous test,” said Jonathan Tan, research professor of astronomy and one of Crowe’s advisers at the University of Virginia, in a statement.

Additionally, the observatory’s Near-Infrared Camera spotted ionized hydrogen emissions surrounding the stellar region’s lower edge, depicted in cyan in the image.

Astronomers are still trying to determine what has created the vast amount of energized gas, which surpasses what would normally be released by young massive stars. The observation team is also intrigued by structures that look like needles within the ionized hydrogen that are arrayed without any order.

“The galactic center is a crowded, tumultuous place. There are turbulent, magnetized gas clouds that are forming stars, which then impact the surrounding gas with their outflowing winds, jets, and radiation,” said Rubén Fedriani, coinvestigator of the project and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Instituto Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain, in a statement. “Webb has provided us with a ton of data on this extreme environment, and we are just starting to dig into it.”

WWII-era hangar burns in Tustin

WWII-era hangar burns in Tustin

(LA Times)- For more than 80 years, two massive domed hangars loomed over Tustin’s southern edge, a relic of Orange County’s military history hemmed in by an expanding suburban landscape that replaced orange groves and lima bean fields with shopping centers and tract homes.

Reaching 17 stories high, more than 1,000 feet long and nearly 300 feet wide, the cavernous wooden structures at the now-defunct Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin once housed military helicopters and blimps armed with machine guns and bombs, so dwarfed by the buildings they looked like toys sitting inside.

The hangars took about six months to build on an accelerated schedule in 1942 as the U.S. ramped up its war effort after entering World War II. But on Tuesday, as smoke poured into the sky from a massive fire, the north hangar took just hours to burn before firefighters decided to let it go.

The north hangar, near Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road, caught fire just before 1 a.m. Flames chewed through the historic building throughout the day, collapsing section after section. What remains of the structure will eventually be demolished, fire officials said.

Thick smoke billowing from the hangar, which is owned by the U.S. Navy, was visible across the region. The sounds of the wood lattice that held up the roof collapsing echoed throughout the surrounding neighborhoods like tidal waves crashing along the shore.

The hangars were built mostly from Oregon Douglas fir, 2 million board-feet of wood that was treated with metallic salts as a fire retardant. But the size and construction of the structure made fighting the blaze a challenge.

Seventy OCFA firefighters on 11 engines and five fire trucks responded to the fire, which was so large and complex that officials deployed helicopters, including a Chinook used in wildfires, to drop water on the huge structure.

But because of the “dynamic nature of the fire, and the imminent danger of collapse,” firefighters planned to allow the mostly wooden hangar to fall on its own before crews move in to extinguish the fire, Fennessy said.

Officials estimated the structure could burn for several hours, if not days.

Officials are investigating what caused the blaze.

Ancient face carvings exposed as Amazon water level drops to record lows

Ancient face carvings exposed as Amazon water level drops to record lows

(CNN)- Human faces sculpted into stone up to 2,000 years ago have appeared on a rocky outcropping along the Amazon River since water levels dropped to record lows in the region’s worst drought in more than a century.

Some rock carvings had been sighted before but now there is a greater variety that will help researchers establish their origins, archaeologist Jaime de Santana Oliveira said on Monday.

One area shows smooth grooves in the rock thought to be where Indigenous inhabitants once sharpened their arrows and spears long before Europeans arrived.

“The engravings are prehistoric, or precolonial. We cannot date them exactly, but based on evidence of human occupation of the area, we believe they are about 1,000 to 2,000 years old,” Oliveira said in an interview.

The rocky point is called Ponto das Lajes on the north shore of the Amazon near where the Rio Negro and Solimões rivers join.

Oliveira said the carvings were first seen there in 2010, but this year’s drought has been more severe, with the Rio Negro dropping 49.2 feet since July, exposing vast expanses of rocks and sand where there had been no beaches.

“This time we found not just more carvings but the sculpture of a human face cut into the rock,” said Oliveira, who works for the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) that oversees the preservation of historic sites.

How a lonely mountain lion led to the creation of the world’s largest wildlife overpass

How a lonely mountain lion led to the creation of the world’s largest wildlife overpass

CNN — It sounds like the plot of a Disney movie: a mountain lion prevented from finding a mate because he’s trapped by L.A. freeways becomes famous and inspires the construction of the world’s largest wildlife overpass.

But it really happened.

“He was surviving in a space much, much smaller than any male mountain lion ever had — eight square miles,” explained Beth Pratt, the California Director of the National Wildlife Federation. “The average male mountain lion territory is 150 miles.”

The cougar, named P-22, became a celebrity among Hollywood stars who would sometimes spot him as he roamed the neighborhoods near Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.

“A mountain lion lived in L.A. and people didn’t fear him,” said Pratt. “They saw him as a neighbor; they’d be eating dinner and he’d walk by their dining room at night and they’d share a photo and be like: ‘Hey, P-22 visited me.’ “

Because of P-22’s popularity, people wanted to help the mountain lion – and others like him – roam the areas beyond Los Angeles’ bustling six-lane 101 Freeway. The idea of a wildlife overpass was garnering interest, but funding it was another issue.

So Pratt, who is most comfortable outdoors in casual clothes and hiking boots, found herself in swanky Bel Air mansions, pleading for endowments.

Donations poured in from celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Rainn Wilson, Barbra Streisand and David Crosby, and support also came from Watts residents in South Los Angeles.

Residents of Watts see P-22 as “a social justice hero,” Pratt explained.

“He’s someone who was also impacted by the injustice of putting freeways through communities,” she said. “Whether you’re [living in] Beverly Hills, whether you’re [living in] Watts, we all come together over wildlife.”

Finding the right spot

Some 300,000 to 400,000 cars a day will pass underneath the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass when it opens in two years.

The crossing includes specially designed sound walls, along with natural sound barriers of tall trees and lush plantings. Everything is designed to filter out the noise of the freeway, since most animals get frightened and turn around if it’s too noisy.

Engineers are also taking into account animals’ fear of bright lights.

“All the lights of those headlights are a deterrent to wildlife,” Pratt explained. “We’re actually designing light barriers — not just on the crossing but in the approach — so they won’t get scared and turn around, which is what happens.”

The wildlife crossing is a public-private project, spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation along with California’s transportation department. About half of the $100 million cost was funded by private donations, including $26 million from philanthropist Wallis Annenberg, whose contribution was instrumental in propelling the project forward.

For 20 years, the National Park Service researched the exact spot where the freeway overpass should go.

Rewilding an L.A. freeway

Besides its massive scope, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing is different from other wildlife overpass systems across the world in that it will host a whole ecosystem on top of it.

A nearby plant nursery is growing native, fire-resistant plants that will eventually cover the crossing.

“We’ve been collecting seeds for years now to match the surrounding ecosystem, and that’s important with climate — both wildlife and plants need options,” according to Pratt.

Invasive, fire-fueling plants — including the ubiquitous black mustard plant — will be removed from the area. The nearby utility poles had to be moved to accommodate the crossing, so those will now be placed underground, which will also help with fire resistance.

“Not only are you going to have wildlife like mountain lions and bobcats crossing it, you’re going to have monarch butterflies laying their eggs on milkweed on top of it, you’re going to have western fence lizards living on top of it,” Pratt said.

“Part of this project is we are going to be restoring the landscape, not just on the crossing, but around it, back to what it should be. So that’s going to help with a lot of things, as well as fire risk.”

P-22 won’t be around to use the wildlife crossing that he helped inspire. In December 2022, just a few months after the National Wildlife Federation and California’s transportation department broke ground on the bridge, the cougar died.

Although his death was heartbreaking, Pratt said he actually lived a long life for a mountain lion.

“But more than that, he used his celebrity for good. I call him the ‘ultimate cougar celebrity influencer.’”

His story, she said, ensured a future for other mountain lions in the region.

“And we owe him a debt of gratitude. He has inspired the building of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing. We would not have it without him.”

Puppies get trained at Detroit airport to be future assistance dogs

Puppies get trained at Detroit airport to be future assistance dogs

(AP)- Five puppies learning to serve as assistance dogs had a howling good time during a training exercise at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The pooches and their trainers walked Tuesday through a TSA checkpoint, rode an elevated tram and boarded an airplane on the visit. It was part of an effort to acclimate the dogs to one of the many settings they may experience later in life. The training was led by a nonprofit that oversees the custom training of puppies that later become assistance dogs for people with disabilities. The trainers also take the puppies to grocery stores, libraries, restaurants and doctor’s appointments.

Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine escapes war, wins high jump world championship

Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine escapes war, wins high jump world championship

BUDAPEST, Aug 27 (Reuters) – Yaroslava Mahuchikh sailed to victory in the women’s high jump for Ukraine’s lone gold medal of the World Athletics Championships, a remarkable achievement in a season disrupted by the war in her homeland.

The 21-year-old, who was forced to flee her home town of Dnipro, cleared 2.01 metres for her first world outdoor title after a pair of second-place finishes.

The bronze medallist at the Tokyo Olympics, the last athlete competing on Sunday, missed on three attempts at 2.07 before taking an emotional bow.

“I am so proud to win this gold for my country,” said Mahuchikh, her blue and yellow eye make-up matching the colours of the Ukraine flag. “I can’t wait to go back and show this medal to my coach.”

Eleanor Patterson, who arrived in Budapest with the world number one ranking, cleared 1.99m for silver, while Australia team mate Nicola Olyslagers also posted 1.99m, but took third on the countback.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe spoke earlier on Sunday about the difficulties facing Ukraine athletes, who have been forced to live and train abroad after Russia’s invasion in February 2022, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Mahuchikh, who has been training in Germany among other countries and has not been back to Dnipro, won the world indoor title in 2022, dedicating that gold to Ukraine.

“This medal is for Ukraine, all my country, all my people, all the military,” she told reporters then. “I must protect our country on the track in an international arena.”

Coe said the situation “makes me choke” and reiterated that he would not be changing his views on Russia and Belarus, a key staging area for the invasion, “anytime soon”.

Both countries are banned from athletics competitions.

“I’ve been an athlete, I was able to prepare in the safety and security of my home city. I was able when I needed to to travel abroad,” Coe said at the championships’ closing press conference.

“I cannot imagine what it must be like for athletes in Ukraine, to be dealing with this landscape. It’s an intolerable situation.”