Survey Says: Gray Seals Are Back

Andreas Trepte, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5
Andreas Trepte, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Scientists have used Google Earth to count New England’s gray seals, and the news is good: The digital survey spotted tens of thousands of animals, far more than previously estimated. The researchers published their findings in the journal Bioscience.

The same features and behaviors that help gray seals survive—their snow- and ice-colored coats, along with their strong swimming skills—can also make them hard for scientists to find. It's important that we find them, and not just because they're so very cute.

Accurate surveys of wildlife populations are crucial not only to scientific understanding of how the world works but also in creating policy measures that will help keep that wildlife safe.

Historically, researchers have done their counting the old-fashioned way: first on foot, seal by seal, then by motor vehicle, then by flying planes over the hauled-out seal families as they lay on the beaches and ice.

Previous aerial surveys of New England populations spotted about 15,000 seals off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. But scientists were pretty sure they were overlooking at least a few animals.

For a different perspective, they tapped into Google Earth and scoured the beaches, the ice, and the frigid waters where the seals spend so much of their time. They overlaid these images with radio tracking data, and the combination provided a far fuller view of the seals’ world.

Google Earth/Duke University

Reviewing the results, the researchers discovered that the aerial surveys had, in fact, missed a few animals. All right, more than a few—more like 15,000 to 35,000. The Google Earth/radio data survey easily doubled and could triple previous estimates.

“Computer-based assessments of seal populations such as this hold great promise in terms of accuracy and repeatability,” study co-author David W. Johnston of Duke University said in a statement.

“This is a conservation success that should celebrated.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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A Wily Fox With a Passion for Fashion Stole More Than 100 Shoes From a Berlin Neighborhood

The smirk.
The smirk.
Brett Jordan, Unsplash

In Berlin, Germany, a fox has embarked on a crime spree that puts Dora the Explorer’s Swiper completely to shame.

CNN-News18 reports that residents of Zehlendorf, a locality in southeastern Berlin, spent weeks scratching their heads as shoes continued to disappear from their stoops and patios overnight. After posting about the mystery on a neighborhood watch site and reading accounts from various bewildered barefooters, a local named Christian Meyer began to think the thief might be a fox.

He was right. Meyer caught sight of the roguish robber with a mouthful of flip-flop and followed him to a field, where he found more than 100 stolen shoes. The fox appears to have an affinity for Crocs, but the cache also contained sandals, sneakers, a pair of rubber boots, and one black ballet flat, among other footwear. Unfortunately, according to BBC News, Meyer’s own vanished running shoe was nowhere to be seen.

Foxes are known for their playfulness, and it’s not uncommon for one to trot off with an item left unattended in a yard. Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife explains that foxes are drawn to “things that smell good,” which, to a fox, includes dog toys, balls, gardening gloves, and worn shoes. And if your former cat’s backyard gravesite is suddenly empty one day, you can probably blame a fox for that, too; they bury their own food to eat later, so a deceased pet is basically a free meal.

The fate of Zehlendorf’s furriest burglar remains unclear, but The Cut’s Amanda Arnold has a radical idea: that the residents simply let the fox keep what is obviously a well-curated collection.

[h/t CNN-News18]