Seabirds Eat Plastic Because it Looks and Smells Like Food

Marine pollution is a well-known, continuous problem in our world’s oceans. Of the types of anthropogenic debris (waste originating from human activity), plastic is perhaps the most dangerous. Few plastics are biodegradable, which means they stick around for a very long time without breaking down. According to NOAA and the Mote Laboratory in Florida, it can take hundreds of years for plastics to degrade. The length of time varies based on the type of plastic, product, and environmental conditions—but that doesn’t change the fact that it takes an average of 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down! A fishing line can take 600 years. Even when they do break down, they release tiny pieces of plastic that seem to persist indefinitely. Even worse, they’re regularly consumed by marine animals—often by accident. This can cause serious health problems, resulting in mortality for a large number of birds and other sea critters.

bird with plastic

Recently, a dead sperm whale was found with 64 pounds of plastic and other human waste in its stomach. It’s believed that the large amount of plastic was a major contributor to the animal’s untimely death. Plastics are even polluting the deep ocean, with many deep-sea creatures consuming microplastics (pieces of plastic about the size of a sesame seed or smaller) on a regular basis—including lobsters, crabs, and sea cucumbers. Of all the animals being affected, the worst off are probably the seabirds.

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July 7, 2018 at 3:01 am Leave a comment

Lone Baby Animals are Rarely Abandoned

The wealth of available resources and mild weather make spring the perfect season for most animals to raise offspring. When these helpless (and often adorable) babies are in danger, it’s natural for people to want to provide aid. Unfortunately, these altruistic actions tend to do more harm than good. Most seemingly abandoned or vulnerable young animals aren’t actually in trouble—in most cases, their parents are nearby and keeping a close eye on them. Although people have good intentions, “helping” these animals generally leads to more problems, especially for the wildlife rehabbers left to pick up the pieces.

bunny

Bunnies

Wildlife rehabilitators tend to cringe whenever someone brings in a litter of “abandoned” rabbit kits. The truth is that it’s very rare that the bunnies have actually been abandoned. Rabbits are prey animals and babies are easy pickings for nearly any predator. Mother rabbits don’t want to draw attention to their nest so they actually stay far away, returning to feed their litter just twice a day for a few minutes. After nursing their young, they go back to foraging far from the nest.

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June 16, 2018 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

Essential Oils Aren’t Essential

Essential oils are popular in all sorts of alternative medicine practices—everything from aromatherapy to oil massages. The name sounds rather scientific as if these are important chemicals for everyday health. In reality, essential oils aren’t so essential after all.

What’s so essential about these oils?

Essential oils sound as if they’d be vital for health just like vitamins and minerals. In reality, the name is a bit of a misnomer. In chemistry, “essential” means “essence of”. In other words, peppermint essential oil is the “essence” of peppermint—it’s a super-concentrated form of the peppermint scent. The terminology does, unfortunately, make it easy to market essential oils as must-have health products. Everything from sandalwood to sage oil can be purchased and some of these products are quite popular. For example, some people buy lavender oil to relax or help with headaches. Eucalyptus oil is used to treat coughs. There are even tips about using oregano oil on your feet to boost your immune system! However, essential oils are volatile chemicals and not cure-all health products.

lavender

Do any of them work?

A few of these oils are actually backed by science. Tea tree oil can treat or prevent specific types of infections and it’s been used this way for a long time. Citrus oil has similar properties, leading some scientists to recommend it as a food preservative due to its bacteria-killing ability. The majority of essential oils have no scientific evidence backing up their uses, however, and this can be dangerous. Waiting for an essential oil to work, rather than going to the doctor right away, can make an illness worse.

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June 4, 2018 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment

Pink wasn’t always for girls

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys—or at least that’s what marketing tells us. Interestingly, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was the opposite for a long time, with boys being dressed in pink while blue was preferred for girls. No one is completely sure why the colors flipped but as it turns out, catalogue marketing teams may be partially to blame.

Traditionally, pink was associated with boys because it was a shade of red and considered to be a “stronger” color. Blue was thought of as pretty and delicate, making it suitable for girls. In reality, though, children of both sexes tended to be dressed in white for simpler cleanup. Kids’ clothes were rarely gendered during this time period. Even an 1890 copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal (a US publication) reads, “Pure white is used for all babies—blue for girls and pink for boys, when a color is wished.” (more…)

November 10, 2017 at 11:00 am 1 comment

Coconut Water Is Not a Health Drink

Coconut water is a trending drink in the United States. Two common health claims are that coconut water is more hydrating than sports drinks and that it contains large amounts of potassium (which isn’t especially helpful to athletes—more on that later!). Modern research is beginning to prove otherwise, however, and it turns out that coconut water is basically just sweetened water.

Coconut water is the liquid found inside of coconuts and should not be confused with coconut milk, which is derived from the fleshy fruit. The drink was traditionally popular in tropical countries such as Thailand but the United States quickly adopted the drink as a health food. Over the past few years, coconut water sales have skyrocketed in Western countries. This sudden surge in popularity has led to some pretty outrageous health claims. (more…)

November 6, 2017 at 11:00 am 2 comments

Melting Icebergs Don’t Cause the Sea Level to Rise

Even among people who understand that the sea level is rising due to climate change, there are still some misconceptions floating around. It makes sense that as the temperature rises, floating sea ice would begin to melt, adding extra water and raising the sea level. In reality, that’s not quite how it works and sea ice is the least of our worries.

glacier

Sea ice is melting and we’re losing icebergs that have existed for millions of years. This doesn’t cause the sea level to rise, however, because the volume of this floating ice has already been accounted for. The ice was already displacing the water and as it melts, it simply adds the same volume in a liquid form. Put a bunch of ice cubes in a full glass of water and the glass won’t overfill from the ice melting. (more…)

May 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm 7 comments

Tomatoes Lose Flavor in the Fridge

Thanks to modern refrigeration, we can keep our food fresh longer. The problem is that the cool temperatures of the fridge don’t preserve all foods equally—as much as we’d like to believe it. People tend to throw almost everything into the fridge, assuming that it can only help. In reality, not every food item is the same chemically or physically and some will actually be harmed when refrigerated. In a few cases, foods will degrade faster in the fridge and the best case scenario is often loss of flavor.

tomatoes

Tomatoes

Store-bought tomatoes never taste quite the same as tomatoes from the garden or local farm. Luckily, scientists have finally pinpointed the reason. Refrigeration actually turns off genes responsible for producing flavonoids, chemicals that contribute to the flavor of foods. When a tomato is exposed to temperatures below 54 degrees Fahrenheit, these genes begin to shut down permanently. Unfortunately, grocery store tomatoes have generally undergone refrigeration at some point, usually during the shipping process. It might be too late to save them from perpetual blandness but there’s still hope for tomatoes that were home-grown or purchased locally. Don’t store them in the fridge, just leave them on the countertop and they’ll be fine. The lost flavors from refrigeration can at least serve as a motivator for growing your own tomatoes. (more…)

April 10, 2017 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

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