The Return of Chris Hadfield * Oldest Primate Skeleton * Gill-net Drownings Depress Seabird Populations * Stung! Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean

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Today on the program, we welcome Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield back to the planet after his five-month mission on the International Space Station. We'll also hear about the discovery of the earliest primate fossil skeleton, which establishes a key branch of our family tree; we'll speak to a scientist from Newfoundland about the high cost of fishing nets on diving seabirds, and we'll meet the author of a new book about the growing impact of jellyfish on the world's oceans.

 

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The Return of Chris Hadfield


Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield returned last month from a five-month mission as Commander of the International Space Station.  It was Commander Hadfield's third history-making trip to space, and he became perhaps the most famous of contemporary astronauts with his social media engagement, his entertaining videos and his sideline as a guitar-playing space troubadour.  Commander Hadfield discusses his adaptation to life in space, and now to life on Earth again, as well as the science he conducted on the Station, and what he learned about the challenges of long duration space missions.

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Oldest Primate Skeleton

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Artist's reconstruction of Archicebus achilles, Xijun Ni, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

A 55-million-year-old fossilized skeleton of a tiny, mouse-sized, tree-dwelling primate is the oldest skeleton of a primate ever discovered.  Primates, of course, are the lineage that humans belong to.  In fact, humans are part of a subgroup called the anthropoids, which includes monkeys and other apes. According to Dr. Chris Beard, the Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, this animal shares features of the anthropoids and the tarsiers - large-eyed nocturnal insectivores.  That suggests it was very close to the branching point on our family tree between these two groups.

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Gill-net Drownings Depress Seabird Populations


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Atlantic puffin, copyright Gary Blakeley

Biologists have known for a long time that seabirds are often victims of commercial fishing with gill-nets.  Diving birds, such as puffins, murres and gannets, can be caught in the nets while fishing and drown.  However, it hasn't been known if these deaths have a significant effect on the populations of these birds.  By looking at the population of seabird colonies around Newfoundland before and after fishing closures, Dr. Bill Montevecchi, University Research Professor of Psychology, Biology and Ocean Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and his colleagues, have revealed that fishing does have a significant effect on seabird populations, and changing fishing methods may be a way to reduce those impacts. 

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Stung!  Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean

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To most people, the problem with jellyfish is that their sting can be very painful.  In a handful of species, that sting can be toxic, even deadly.  But there is a bigger jellyfish problem.  Jellyfish blooms are becoming so frequent and so large that they are taking over in many oceans and seas around the world.  In her new book, Stung! - On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of The Ocean, Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin, Director of The Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services in Hobart, proposes that the abundance of jellies and the ill-health of our oceans are linked.  Jellyfish have become the "middleman of destruction" to ecosystems, as harmful human activities - such as overfishing, pollution, acidification and climate change - actually benefit or have don't have any downside for the opportunistic jellies.  Is has even been suggested that the problem is so severe, the oceans may be returning to the way they were millions of years ago when algae, bacteria and jellyfish ruled.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0