Science Caturday: Tourists Bring Unwanted Gifts

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Oh noooo, a new article in The Atlantic says that the huge increase in the numbers of visitors to Antarctica in recent years may be making the penguins sick.

A team led by Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in New Zealand found multiple infectious agents, including Salmonella and E. coli bacteria and West Nile virus in captive penguins dating back to 1947. A paper based on the team’s work published this month in the journal Polar Biology (paywall) reports that outbreaks of disease from those pathogens have killed thousands of penguins over the years.

I sure hope our intrepid polar explorer kitteh didn’t bring along any toxoplasmosis from home.

CBD: Cute But Deadly

Leopard Seal

I love to watch animal documentaries on TV. I even own Planet Earth on HD-DVD (I know, I know, serious technology miscalculation there). One of the most beautiful animals I’ve seen documented is the leopard seal. Leopard seals are named for their spotted pelts and can grow to be as large as polar bears. They are thought to be brutal and ruthless killers of penguins, fish and sometimes humans. I recently saw a TED talk by an arctic wildlife photographer (Paul Nicklen) who ran into some leopard seals while shooting penguins. Turns out these seals aren’t always bent on “kill and destroy”. The seal tried to entice him by delivering a freshly killed penguin to him and tried to feed it to his camera.

While these seals primarily live on larger game, it turns out they are capable of feeding themselves in another way. In Polar Biology, it was reported that these seals can sieve krill out of the water just like whales can. Their teeth are structured in such a way that it’s possible for them to gulp up a cloud of krill and expel the extra water keeping the krill to swallow. While this behavior hasn’t yet been documented in the wild, there’s a possibility that these ultimate predators can snack on teeny tiny krill. Turns out, they are indiscriminate binge-eaters at just about every level of the food-chain!