Scientists See a Sea Cow, Asleep at the Seal, Orangutans - Who's your Daddy?, Perfect Rigor, Science Fact or Fiction - Parsley & Bad Breath

 

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Scientists See a Sea Cow

sea_cow.jpg Dr. Samonds fossil hunting

Dr Karen Samonds, a paleontologist and curator at the McGill Redpath Museum, was hoping to find fossils to help her understand the biological history of Madagascar. This island, sometimes known as the eighth continent, has a unique flora and fauna because it's been cut off from all other land for 80 million years. Nevertheless, little is known of its biological history because of a paucity of fossils. In exploring for fossils, Dr Samonds has now found a bed that has revealed several marine animals, including crocodiles, turtles, and a new species of sea cow - an early relative of modern manatees and dugongs - from about 40 million years ago.

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Asleep at the Seal

elephant_seal.jpg Elephant seal, copyright Mike Baird, cc-by-2.0

The migration of elephant seals, from California to as far north as Alaska, is a journey that means they are at sea for up to nine months at a time. The length of this journey has raised the question about their sleep habits. During that trek, elephant seals are in constant motion, continually diving to a depth of about 300 metres or more, then returning to the surface. Dr. Russ Andrews, a Marine Mammals Scientist with the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward, and a Research Professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, believes that it is during these dives that elephant seals sleep. In what is called a 'drift dive', they turn on their backs to maximize drag and descend like a falling leaf. The elephant seals instinctively know not to drift too deeply, or to sleep too close to the surface where they may be preyed upon.

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Orangutans - Who's Your Daddy

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Why don't orangutan males kill infants more often? That might seem like an odd question, but in fact, they should have good reason to. Orangutan infants take a very long time to raise, and during that time females won't become pregnant. So, if a male kills the offspring of others, he's increasing his own opportunity to mate by freeing up the female. Nevertheless, there is very little infanticide in orangutans. Dr. Cheryl Knott, a professor of Anthropology at Boston University, thinks she knows why. She thinks females choose prime males when fertile, but intentionally mate with lots of different males when not fertile, so as to sew confusion about fatherhood. Thus, orangutan males can't be certain they're not the father of her eventual offspring.

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Perfect Rigor

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In 2002, a little known Russian mathematician, named Grigori Perelman, shocked the math world by releasing his proof of the Poincaré Conjecture, one of the great problems in mathematics. Since then, he's refused all awards or prizes for his work, rejected offers of professorship from major universities, and, in fact, claims to have quit mathematics entirely, retiring into seclusion in his mother's small apartment in St. Petersburg. Russian journalist Masha Gessen sets out to try and explain what happened to Perelman, and how he solved this problem, in her new book, Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century. She explores the life of Grigori Perelman, the mystery who wrapped up an enigma.

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Science Fact or Fiction - Bad Breath and Parsley

This is another episode of our occasional feature, Science Fact or Science Fiction. From time to time, we'll present a commonly held idea or popular saying - and ask a Canadian scientist to set us straight on whether we should believe it or not. Today we're checking up on the popular belief that eating parsley can eliminate bad breath. To get to the truth, we set our sights on Dr. Kenneth Hamin, a dentist in Winnipeg, a part-time clinical instructor at the University of Manitoba, and an expert in the field of Halitosis. He says it's science fiction.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein.
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