Genital-breathing turtle on the verge of extinction

I find the story of this species of turtle worth recording, while it is still around, for its unique appearance and peculiar ways. Its freakishness is what makes it worth saving.

Imagine, where else in the animal kingdom could one find a member that exhibits a very bizarre way of breathing using specialized glands in their cloacas—organs that are used for both excretion and mating and which allows it to stay submerged in water for up to 72 hours?

Indeed, the Mary River turtle, as it is called, does not only have a weird way of breathing, but it is also described as having a piercing gold eyes, ‘green hair’ and fleshy barbs on its neck and a tail that can grow to exceptional lengths – that is up to 70 percent longer than the length of its shell.

The gentle turtle’s scientific name is Elusor macrurus and the ‘hairs’ on its head are vertical strands of algae, which makes it look like a swimming patch of grass, the result of staying submerged in water for long hours.

Measuring up to 40cm, the turtle is said to take a long time to mature sexually, rarely mating before the age of 25.

They prefer to dwell in well-oxygenated, flowing sections of streams, known as riffles, though they are sometimes found in deeper pools.

It is because of its gentle/docile nature that the Mary River turtle was kept as a pet in Australia in the 1960s and 70s.

During that period, it was estimated that around 15,000 Mary River turtle eggs were sold to pet shops every year, and the unchecked raiding of the animal’s nests played a large part in driving the turtle towards extinction.

According to the Australian Zoo, Mary River turtles are also threatened by habitat degradation, which includes “problems such as a deterioration of water quality through riverside vegetation being cleared, water pollution through siltation, agricultural chemical contamination and water flow disruptions through the construction of weirs for irrigation and predation.”

As its name suggest, the Mary River turtle lives only in the flowing streams of the Mary River in Queensland, Australia.

Unfortunately the turtle is also at number 29 on the new official list of the most endangered reptiles in the world.

 

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Another new body organ discovery

 

Interstitium: latest body organ discovery

Sometime in early 2017 scientists discovered an important organ making it the 79th inside the human body.

Called the mesentery, it is a double fold of peritoneum – the lining of the abdominal cavity – that holds our intestine to the wall of our abdomen.

Accordingly, what is considered an organ now has always been inside the human body performing important functions that affect systems throughout the body, but was ignored throughout the centuries thinking it was just a few fragmented structures in the digestive system.

What it is in fact is a continuous organ that plays an important role in the intestinal, vascular, endocrine, cardiovascular and immunological systems, but more research is needed to determine the extent of those roles.

Among its functions, it carries blood and lymphatic fluid between the intestine and the rest of the body. It also maintains the position of the intestine so that it’s connected with the abdominal wall without being in direct contact.

Very interesting discovery, indeed, even to a known medical person, but what makes it even more fascinating to me is that I have known about this word already when I was running a meat processing plant where we butchered our own hogs and large animals.

The foregoing, however, is not the subject of this piece.

The new human organ discovery I am referring to in the title is called Interstitium, which according to scientists had previously gone unnoticed despite being one of the largest organs in the human body.

It was reported that Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center medics Dr David Carr-Locke and Dr Petros Benias came across the interstitium while investigating a patient’s bile duct, searching for signs of cancer.

The researchers noticed cavities that did not match any previously known human anatomy, and approached New York University pathologist Dr Neil Theise to ask for his expertise.

The researchers realized traditional methods for examining body tissues had missed the interstitium because the “fixing” method for assembling medical microscope slides involves draining away fluid – therefore destroying the organ’s structure.

Instead of their true identity as bodywide, fluid-filled shock absorbers, the squashed cells had been overlooked and considered a simple layer of connective tissue.

Having arrived at this conclusion, the researchers realized this structure was found not only in the bile duct, but surrounding many crucial internal organs.

“This fixation artefact of collapse has made a fluid-filled tissue type throughout the body appear solid in biopsy slides for decades, and our results correct for this to expand the anatomy of most tissues,” said Dr Theise.

How about that for the latest human organ discovery!

I would suppose this makes it the 80th important organ of the human body.

Gorillas dying in captivity

In the same manner that my attention always gets pulled towards the zoo enclosures where large primates are found, like the gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans, I also get bothered and saddened reading about these intelligent, human-like animals suffering and dying in captivity.

It is bad enough that these herbivorous apes have been displaced from their natural habitat of dense forests where they spend most of their daytime feeding on vegetation, but it gets even worst when man insidiously change their diet.

Long running studies have been made to find solution to a crisis facing captive apes the world over that gets transferred to an artificial environment only to die later.

In 1911, Madame Ningo, the first gorilla in North America, arrived at the Bronx Zoo, where she was fed hot, meat-centric meals from a nearby restaurant. Being an herbivore, Madame Ningo refused to eat and was dead within two weeks.

In 2006, three seemingly healthy male gorillas in American zoos died from heart disease—a condition almost nonexistent in wild gorillas. Scientists have since determined that 70% or so of adult male gorillas in North America have heart disease, and it’s the leading killer of captive male gorillas worldwide.

Significant proof to this is when a 30-year-old and 400-pound gorilla named Mokolo unknowingly got an ultrasound heart exam when he voluntarily shambled up to a stainless-steel fence, squatted on his stout legs, and pressed his belly to the mesh.

Like many captive male gorillas, Mokolo suffers from heart disease—specifically, fibrosing cardiomyopathy, a condition that turns red, healthy heart muscle into bands of white scar tissue too rigid to pump blood. Other great apes, such as orangutans and chimpanzees, suffer at similar rates.

For more than a decade, zookeepers, veterinarians, epidemiologists and others have struggled to figure out why heart disease is so prevalent among captive apes, and how to prevent the animals from developing it. Now they may be closing in on answer—one that lies not in the 20-ounce time bombs housed in gorillas’ chests, but in the microscopic bacteria that flourish in their guts.

“The gut dictates everything,” a biological anthropologist says. Even with advances in feeding, scientists believe gorillas are still getting too much sugar and grain—and too little fiber—and it’s changing the microbes in their guts. It’s possible that, as in humans, gut microbes play a role in the health of systems throughout the body.

Perhaps what this means is that unlike in the forest where the flora being foraged is what gives the gorillas more of the good bacteria in their guts, in captivity most of the food given them generates more bad bacteria that makes it generally unhealthy for the body.

China’s interest in Philippine Rise

 

After what happened in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) where China claimed practically the whole of it, including what belongs to us in the context of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), only to convert it into militarized zone by turning reefs, atolls and other protrusions into islands complete with troops, airstrips and armaments of all kinds, would you blame the Filipino people now if most will question China’s interest in the Philippine Rise?

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is believed to be rich in maritime resources. The United Nations in 2012 recognized the Philippines’ exclusive economic rights to it as part of its continental shelf.

It is for this reason that I wrote a series of blogs about this new-found wealth of the country, which prompted me to say in one of the pieces, upon knowing that we own it, thus:  ‘I may never see it explored and developed in my generation, but it feels good heading towards the sunset years of my life that the succeeding generations faces a brighter future.’

You can open the following links for more information, if only to have an idea of what I am talking about:

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/philippines-pin-hopes-on-benham-rise/

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/thank-god-for-benham-rise-part-ii/

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/benham-rise/

What I am trying to say here now is that after China’s scientific study/exploration in the resource-rich Philippine Rise, which included the giving of Chinese names to some features it has discovered, that it should not further its interest in and of the area.

At most it is very reassuring that President Rodrigo Duterte has calmed the concern and anxiety of the nation by telling the public not to be alarmed over China’s move to name features in the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise), even as he stressed Manila’s sovereign rights over the resource-rich waters.

“Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino. We will claim exclusive ownership of the economic zones — 200 nautical miles,” Duterte said.

“Let me be very clear about this: The Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration.”

Well said, but does this mean that we have to put our guards down just because it is coupled with the heartening words of Duterte?

I believe in Duterte’s ardor in protecting the interests of the country and the Filipino people, and he could not be corrupted.

But what happens when he is gone and the one succeeding does not have the political will and leadership capability that Duterte has in stopping China’s aggression, especially that the latter is  now at our own backyard in the West Philippine Sea?

This is the price we get for having China as our closest neighbor now, even honoring every which way their presence.

Dealing with loneliness issues

 

This may sound odd indeed, but it has been reported that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has created a government agency, to be headed by a Minister, that will be dealing with loneliness issues.

A study conducted found that one in 10 people in the U.K. face isolation, a condition that can trigger a range of physical and mental health issues.

“I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones ― people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with,” May said in a statement.

Statistics have shown that more than 9 million adults in the U.K. report feeling often or always lonely. For 3.6 million people aged 65 or older, it found, television is considered the main form of company.

According to Brigham Young University Psychology Professor Julianne Holt Lunstad, the harmful impact of loneliness is more than psychological. Having weak social connections is considered to be as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality and the magnitude of the risks exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Lunstad  is quoted as saying in the Jo Cox Commission’s on Loneliness, an organization that works to combat social isolation and loneliness.

More than half of all disabled people in the U.K. experience loneliness, with it being more prominent among younger individuals. Eight out of 10 caregivers have also felt lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one, according to the Jo Cox Commission’s report.

The commission is named after Labor Party lawmaker Jo Cox, who was a prominent advocate for addressing the issue of loneliness in Britain before her 2016 shooting death by a right-wing extremist.

As loneliness is universal that comes in different manner, shape and form, it may be beneficial for other countries to take notice of what the U.K. is doing in raising understanding and awareness of loneliness issues if only for the afflicted to know that there are organizations and people out there who support and care for them.

 

A drone comes to the rescue

 

Before going to the full text of how and where this drone made a dramatic rescue, let me just conceptualize first what a drone is.

A drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft. It is more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

We are now entering the age of artificial intelligence (AI), also called machine intelligence (MI), as it is mostly found in machines or robots, if you may. MI is in contrast with the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals.

So, basically, a drone is a flying robot. The aircraft may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded system working in conjunction with on-board sensors and global positioning system (GPS.)

In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and then, more controversially, as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services.

Having said the foregoing, it was reported recently that a pair of Australian swimmers became the first people to be rescued in the ocean by a drone when the aerial lifesaver dropped a safety device to the distressed teens caught in rough seas.

The two boys is said to have been caught in three-meter (10-foot) swells while swimming off Lennox Head in New South Wales, near the border with Queensland.

Beach goers onshore raised the alarm to the lifeguards who then alerted the drone pilot, and the aerial lifesaver was deployed in moments.

Note that Australia is leading the use of the technology in surf lifesaving, with dozens of drones being tried on beaches around the country.

Along with their ability to spot swimmers in trouble and deliver life saving devices faster than traditional lifesaving techniques, like launching surfboards or rubber dinghies, drones are being used in Australia to spot underwater predators like sharks and jellyfish.

 

Supermoon

 

People usually get excited when there is scheduled date for the appearance of a supermoon, like today, December 3, 2017.

What makes it more fascinating is remembering some exceptional photos in the past where objects are pictured either superimposed over or juxtaposed with the seemingly oversized moon.

Alas, I saw the moon tonight and there was really nothing spectacular about it. There was nothing of the much heralded events like the blood moon, the black moon, the blue moon, the strawberry moon and the harvest moon, among others.

But let me just share with you the explanation of the science and origins behind some of these events that will let you decide whether they are worth late nights or early mornings of moongazing.

According to James Lattis, an astronomer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the supermoon is a made-up term, meaning it is not an astronomical term.

Supermoon was actually coined by an astrologer in the 1970s, not by a scientist. The term has come to loosely mean a full moon that is at perigee, or when the moon is at its closest position to Earth along its orbit.

Dr. Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, also explains that the supermoon really shines when it is compared with the full moon at apogee, or its farthest position from Earth. Placing images of the two side by side, according to him, you can see the difference more easily – the supermoon is 14 percent larger than the apogee full moon and 30 percent brighter.

On average, the moon is about 238,900 miles away from Earth. During supermoons it gets closer – in November 2016  when the moon was at its closest approach since 1948, it was approximately 221,524 miles away.

Astronomers measure the distance of the moon from Earth by shooting lasers to the surface of the moon, which then bounce off mirrors called retroreflectors, which were left behind by the Apollo missions and two Soviet landers.