Technology » Nature and Environment The latest Technology news and blog posts from ABC News contributors and bloggers. Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:18:59 +0000 en hourly 1 FAA Investigating Drone Incident at Seattle’s Space Needle Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:18:59 +0000 Cecilia Vega

The Federal Aviation Administration told ABC News today that it is looking into reports that a drone recently hovered above the observation deck of Seattle’s famous Space Needle.

While curious tourists waved, the mysterious flying object gave security quite a scare.

Authorities said a man launched the drone out of his hotel room window on Tuesday.

“There was no malcontent or malice,” said Drew Fowler of the Seattle Police Department. “He wasn’t trying to do anything wrong. He was just trying to capture some interesting footage.”

Related: Police probe possible peeping drone outside woman’s home.
Related: Amazon wants to test delivery drones in Seattle.
Related: Growing traffic in US skies as drone almost hits passenger plane.

While recreational drone usage is legal in Washington state, today’s incident was the latest raising questions about whether it’s safe to fly drones above crowded cities.

Last year, a drone buzzed over the busy streets of New York, flying past iconic landmarks like the Chrysler building and then crash-landing, nearly hitting pedestrians during the height of rush hour.

And there have been close calls with planes. A drone last year came within 200 feet of a jumbo jet.

Drones have been exploding in popularity but the rules for how and where they can be used have not caught up. The FAA said it is working on new safety guidelines but it could take two years for them to take effect.

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DeAgostini/Getty Images

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Newly Discovered Mouse-Like Mammal and Elephants Are Long Lost Cousins Fri, 27 Jun 2014 15:32:17 +0000 Alyssa Newcomb GTy Micus Elephant TG 140626 16x9 608 Newly Discovered Mouse Like Mammal and Elephants Are Long Lost Cousins

(Galen Rathbun/California Academy of Sciences | Getty Images)

Imagine the family reunion: In one corner, a three-ton elephant, in the other, a mouse-like mammal weighing in at about one ounce.

The small creature, which was discovered in Namibia, looks like a mouse at first glance. However, it is more closely related genetically to elephants, according to researchers from the California Academy of Sciences.

Photos: Amazing Animals From Around the World

Like its distant relative, the tiny round-eared elephant shrew has a trunk, however the outward resemblance seems to end there.

However, genetic testing revealed the creature was a newly discovered species and had ties in the animal kingdom to elephants, manatees and aardvarks.

Scientists believe the mouse-like mammal went undiscovered so long because it lives in an isolated area and has rust-colored fur, allowing it to blend in with the terrain of western Africa.

“It’s exciting to think that there are still areas of the world where even the mammal fauna is unknown and waiting to be explored,” Jack Dumbacher,  the Academy’s Curator of Ornithology and Mammalogy, said in a news release.

It’s certainly not the first time two seemingly unrelated animals — or people for that matter — have been connected.

President Barack Obama and Brad Pitt are distant cousins, according to researchers at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is the ninth cousin of President George W. Bush and Secretary of State John Kerry. Hef is twice removed from George W., and a slightly closer relation to Kerry, being only once removed.


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Great White Shark Making Comeback in US Waters Fri, 20 Jun 2014 22:10:19 +0000 ABC News Nearly 39 years to the day since “Jaws” first terrified audiences, a new report shows that the real thing is making a comeback — the US is seeing a boom of great white sharks.

Related: Track a great white shark as it makes its way toward Texas.

According to a study by a team of scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, since 1997, the white shark population has increased by an estimated 42 percent.

“Our white sharks and all of our sharks are the real balance keepers,” said Chris Fischer, founding chairman and expedition leader of research firm Ocearch. “We need them in our oceans. …  There’s just no robust path forward for the ocean without lots of sharks.”

For years, the number of great whites plummeted — around the time “Jaws” was made, their population had fallen by 70 percent — but now they’re back.

The report credited the comeback to an increase in seals, their favorite food; a federal ban on hunting great whites; and conservationists’ efforts to change their image.

Fischer and a team of scientists put a geotracker on a great white named Katharine last year to track her journey from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to the Gulf of Mexico, and understand how sharks spawn.

A dozen or so other sharks were also tagged and named and are swimming off the East Coast and the west coast of Florida, as well as throughout the world.

There are four tagged sharks off the coast of Georgia; one each off the coasts of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia; and two off the coast of New York’s Montauk.

Katharine now has 12 fans following along online.

“People have fallen in love with her,” Fischer said. “I think that people are fascinated with the sharks for the first time ever. … I’m just thrilled the whole world is just jumping into the project.”

ABC News’ Matt Gutman, Catherine Cole and Colleen Curry contributed to this story.

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Arctic Freezes Aren’t What They Used to Be Wed, 15 Jan 2014 16:54:35 +0000 Clayton Sandell HT cold snap tshirt 16x9 608 Arctic Freezes Arent What They Used to Be

Clayton Sandell holds up a frozen t-shirt during the cold snap of December 2013. ABC News

It was cold.  It was brutal.  Many T-shirts were frozen in the name of TV news.  But a new analysis from the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows that lately, those Arctic cold snaps like the one earlier this month just aren’t lasting as long.  The graphics below show how things are changing for cities like New York, Atlanta and Chicago (43 consecutive days below freezing in 1977, versus just 11 days this season.)  Climate scientists say it’s part of a years-long trend in which extreme heat records are outpacing extreme cold records 2-to-1, as humans continue burning fossil fuels that are warming the planet.

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Whales, Dolphins Putting on Spectacular Show in Monterey Bay Sat, 30 Nov 2013 14:45:20 +0000 Clayton Sandell

In the wild, animals go where the food is, so for hundreds of killer and humpback whales as well as dolphins, the place to be is California’s Monterey Bay.

They’re showing up for a booming seafood buffet thanks to an unusual late-season abundance of anchovies.

Related: Whales seen mating off the coast of California

“We haven’t seen anchovies in this kind of mass in years and years,” said Chris Arcoleo, owner of Chris’ Fishing and Whale Watching.

He said charter companies could not keep up with customer demand for whale-watching trips.

“It’s incredible.  We don’t have enough boats. We don’t have enough tim

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A killer whale is seen in Monterey Bay, Calif. Getty Images

e to do it,” Arcoleo told ABC News. “You’ve got hundreds of whales in the bay, along with sea lions and dolphins.  It’s magnificent.”

Humpbacks can scarf down 3,000 pounds in a day. Their feeding frenzy is a once-in-a-lifetime show, with dozens of whales jumping into the air and lifting giant tails out of the water as they dive.

“Typically during the year you’re fortunate if you see four or five,” Arcoleo said.

The underwater bounty is the exact opposite of what researchers were seeing a few months ago in Southern California when hundreds of sea lion pups were washing ashore skinny and starving.

Related: Protester, 12, targets SeaWorld float in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

In March, Peter Wallerstein of Friends of Animals, Marine Animal Rescue, said he’d done 200 sea lion rescues since January.

“Commercial bait fishermen, friends of mine, said there’s no bait in the water,” Wallerstein told ABC News. “No anchovies, no sardines, no mackerel — the kind of food these animals eat.”

For now, however, there’s plenty to feast on both for the humpback whale and those watching the spectacle from a boat.

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New Dinosaur That Rivaled T-Rex Discovered in Utah Fri, 22 Nov 2013 19:43:37 +0000 Alyssa Newcomb AP Siats meekerorum2 ml 131122 16x9 608 New Dinosaur That Rivaled T Rex Discovered in Utah

(Image Credit: The Field Museum/AP Photo)

Meet the biggest bully from 100 million years ago that even rivaled the mighty tyrannosaurus rex.

The discovery of the siats meekeroreum (pronounced see-atch), a new dinosaur species, was announced today by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

The partial skeleton of the meat-eating predator, which weighed more than four tons and was 30 feet long, was found by paleontologists in Utah’s Cedar Mountain Formation in 2008.

After years of careful excavation and cleaning of the fossils, the new species was officially announced today.

“We were thrilled to discover the first dinosaur of its kind in North America and add to mounting evidence that dinosaurs were widely dispersed across the globe 100 million years ago” Peter Makovicky, curator of dinosaurs at the Field Museum, said in a statement.

Paleontologists also found tyrannosaurs teeth near the siats fossils, they said, indicating that the T-Rex was smaller in stature and did not compete with the newly discovered species for a top predator role.



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Robot Penguin Spy Cams Capture Rare Moments Fri, 22 Nov 2013 17:07:00 +0000 Linsey Davis

A penguin couple attempting to stage a “chick-napping” after losing their own baby. Another penguin flipping its tail under to keep its egg from freezing. A hungry predator that thought it had picked up dinner instead inadvertently became the first bird to capture an aerial-view shot.

These are just some of the incredibly rare penguin moments caught on cameras filmmakers hid inside life-sized animatronic penguins and then placed among colonies of the real marine birds. There are 17 species of penguin worldwide and these robots look and move like the real thing.

“They have cameras in their eyes and they can get really close to the animals, the penguins, and they can get these kinds of shots that are really in the penguins works and also capture extraordinary behavior,” producer-director John Downer said.



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                                  (Photo Credit: Discovery/BBC/John Downer)

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                                (Photo Credit: Discovery/BBC/John Downer)

Downer, with producer Phillip Dalton, used the spy-cam embeds to capture unprecedented footage for their new documentary, “Penguins: Waddle All the Way,” which premieres on the Discovery Channel Saturday 9 p.m. ET.

“The cameras actually caught the moment the egg came round and you saw the tail flip round protecting the egg, saved it from the ice,” Downer said. “You know it was a moment that you wouldn’t have seen any other way.”

Downer and his team deployed 50 of these cameras, which were also placed inside fake penguin eggs rocks and ice formations.

The cameras caught emperor penguins as they took the treacherous 60-mile journey to their breeding grounds, rockhoppers as they bobbed and weaved their way through snapping sea lions, and Humboldts as they tried to evade vampire bats. They even captured moments of jealousy.

“The rockhoppers up in the colony, they were waiting for their females to return and most of them had, except for one individual that was quite lonely, and so he turned his eye on our robot and they very quickly bonded,” Dalton said. “But he was caught in the act, the female did return and she wasn’t very happy.”

Indeed, Dalton said, the angry female knocked the animatronic penguin to the ground.

Through these spy cams, the birds were seen slipping, sliding, and stumbling their way through a course of seemingly endless challenges on their annual pilgrimage to the harshest of destinations, all in hopes of creating new life.

“They reflect a lot of our lives,” Dalton said. “They would survive all the knocks in life, get back up, and just keep going.”

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Monster Oarfish, 18 Feet Long, Called ‘Discovery of a Lifetime’ Wed, 16 Oct 2013 00:01:57 +0000 Lauren Effron

What began as a marine science instructor’s leisurely snorkeling trip off the Southern California coast turned into the discovery of a monstrous legendary sea creature.

Jasmine Santana, a 26-year-old instructor for the Catalina Island Marine Institute, was snorkeling in Toyon Bay on Sunday afternoon when she saw a half-dollar sized eye staring at her from the sandy bottom. That eye belonged to an 18-foot-long oarfish, a find so rare, the institute hailed it as a “discovery of a lifetime” in a news release.

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Crew members from the Catalina Island Marine Institute's Sailing School Vessel Tole Mour holds the 18-foot-long oarfish discovered in Toyon Bay on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. Credit: Courtesy Catalina Island Marine Institute

Oarfish are the stuff of myth and legend, likely the stars of sea serpent tall tales throughout history. The longest of the bony fish species, they are rarely seen dead or alive.

Santana, who didn’t have a camera with her at the time, decided to bring the massive fish, which was newly dead with the body almost fully intact, ashore.

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Credit: Courtesy Catalina Island Marine Institute

“She said, ‘I was thinking to myself, there’s no way anyone is going to believe me,” said Mark Waddington, the senior captain of the institute’s sailing school training ship, Tole Mour.

Waddington, one of many instructors who take middle school-age students out on the institute’s Guided Discoveries tours, told that he and a group of instructors were unloading gear from the Tole Mour, when they spotted Santana about 150 feet away, trying to bring in the fish.

“I remember looking over and seeing her wrestling with it,” he said. “When I saw the long tail, I thought, ‘Oh that’s got to be an oarfish.’”

Waddington said he and about 15 to 20 other people from boat rushed over to help Santana, who pulled the monster in 90 feet, before the waves helped push it onto the sand.

When he saw the size of the oarfish for the first time, Waddington said, “I was beside myself, I’m sure I said ‘awesome’ a lot.”

“I had heard of it in studies, but never thought I would see one in person,” he added.

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Credit: Courtesy Catalina Island Marine Institute

It is believed that oarfish, which can grow to be more than 50 feet long, can dive down to 3,000 feet and usually live in deep parts of the ocean, which is why little has been studied about them. Waddington said in the 35 years of Guided Discoveries talking more than 1 million people out on sea excursions, “this was the first one we’ve seen of this size.”

Tissue samples of the giant were sent to experts at the University of California at Santa Barbara for further study. Although CIMI instructors had hoped to preserve the fish’s skeleton, oarfish bones are very delicate, Waddington said, so the specimen remains on ice.

But many other unusual and rare phenomena have occurred in the Toyon Bay this fall, Waddington said. For one, market squid, which are the small variety sold for food consumption, usually come to the bay to mate for a very brief time, but this year, thousands upon thousands of market squid have been staying in the bay for two months straight, which has brought in a variety of dolphins.

Waddington said they have also had four recent green turtle sightings — another rarity.

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Brilliant Photos of the Bobtail Squid Sat, 21 Sep 2013 10:15:18 +0000 Jared T. Miller Todd Bretl’s astonishing underwater images of the bobtail squid come from years of practice. Bretl has been diving since the age of 12, and shooting underwater since 2008.

The bobtail squid is a particularly good subject for a light-hungry photographer; the cephalopod possesses bioluminescent bacteria on its underbelly that react to the light hitting the top of its mantle. At about two inches long, the bobtail squid is surprisingly small. But as Bretl’s photos show, it’s a large (and luminous) presence underwater.

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Explore the depths of Bretl’s underwater work at his website,

See more featured photography curated by ABC News’ photo editors at Picture This, the ABC News photography blog.

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VIDEO: Dolphins’ Unusual Feeding Frenzy Chases Fish on Land Fri, 20 Sep 2013 14:09:17 +0000 ABC News



A group of dolphins living exclusively in the waters off the Carolinas and Georgia have an unusual, yet ingenious, way of capturing their prey — they force them up on shore.

Dubbed the Seabrook Island gang, these bottlenose dolphins will try to find schools of fish, such as mullet, and use their echolocation to confuse them. Then they actually beach themselves in order to eat.

National Geographic’s director of photography Scott Snider was part of a team that captured these dolphins’ strange feeding pattern while filming the documentary, “Secret Life of Predators.”

“They’re constantly echolocating and hunting and trying to find these schools of mullet. And when they do, they’ll start to work them up,” Snider told “Nightline.” “Once they get them right where they want them on just the right stretch of beach, there’s a vocal cue and they make a sound and they all rush at the same time.”

“They all make this bow wave and it throws and crashes and breaks these mullet up on the beach,” he continued. “Then they lay there on their sides, mouths open, waiting, trying to catch these mullet that are flopping back down.”

Right before they beach themselves, the dolphins make a “strong” noise, Snider said.

“You’ll hear a lot of clicks and whistles while they’re shoring up the fish,” he said. “Then all of the sudden there’s a strong vocalization — a much louder noise — right before they’re going to strand, switching a half a second to a second every single time.”

The feasting rewards may be big for the dolphin but so are the risks. The creatures weigh roughly 400 pounds, so these meals, if not expertly executed, could turn into suicide missions.

“If they sit up there too long they can crush internal organs, they can burn,” Snider said. “A lot of bad things can happen.”

Other onshore dangers include oyster shells. Like giant shards of glass, the sharp shells can slice open a dolphin’s rubbery skin. Another danger is people.

“It’s great as far as a draw and awareness of dolphins and how amazing they are — all of that is good,” Snider said. But “if there’s a line of people 50 on the beach, they’re nervous about stranding and won’t strand. It definitely affects their behavior.”

Dolphins are often thought of as friendly, innocent, almost cuddly creatures of the sea, but biologists say we should see these mammals as the cunning and ruthless hunters they really are.

“They need to make a living, they’re predators, and they are good at it,” Snider said. “They’re just like lions or tigers or anything else for their niche.”


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