Science Briefs

Rare species of deep-diving whale gets identified

Australian researchers have identified a new species of mysterious beaked whale based on the study of seven animals stranded on remote tropical islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Beaked whales, a widespread but little-known family of toothed whales, are found in deep ocean waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf throughout the world’s oceans.

“They are rarely seen at sea due to their elusive habits, long dive capacity and apparent low abundance for some species. Understandably, most people have never heard of them,” said international team leader Merel Dalebout of the University of New South Wales.

The first specimen of the new species, Mesoplodon hotaula – meaning “pointed beak” – was a female found on a Sri Lankan beach more than 50 years ago. Until now, it was considered part of the gingko-toothed beaked whale species.

The researchers used a combination of DNA analysis and physical characteristics to make the differentiation. The findings were published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

Patriarchs’ camels stumble on anachronism

Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in ancient Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historical accuracy, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.

Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen, archaeologists at Tel Aviv University, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the moment when domesticated camels arrived in the southern Levant, pushing the estimate to the 9th century BCE. The findings were published in the journal Tel Aviv.

Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime toward the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the area where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, an ancient center of copper production.

Is having a wide face a factor in romance?

Women may perceive men with wider faces as more dominant and more attractive for short-term relationships, according to a study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Our study shows that within three minutes of meeting in real life, women find more dominant, wider-faced men attractive for short-term relationships, and want to go on another date with them,” said lead researcher Katherine Valentine of Singapore Management University.

According to Valentine, there’s considerable academic debate about whether physical dominance is actually attractive to women. Researchers have also been exploring facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR) as a possible physical indicator of male dominance.

This new study, she said, addressed both issues: “High male fWHR has previously been associated with surviving in hand-to-hand combat, aggressiveness, self-perceived power, and CEOs’ financial success. Our study shows it’s also a reasonably good indicator of perceived dominance – not only that, it piques women’s interest in a face-to-face speed-dating setting.”