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 image of the New England coastline, complete with tiny seals on the beach.
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.”

Learn Travel Blogging, Novel Writing, Editing, and More With This $30 Creative Writing Course Bundle

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Do Dogs Get Headaches?

Even without raging benders, dogs might still get headaches.
Even without raging benders, dogs might still get headaches.
damedeeso/iStock via Getty Images

Like babies, dogs can be hard to read in the medical ailment department. Are they listless because they’re tired, or because they’re sick? What’s behind their whining? And can they suffer that most human of debilitating conditions, the headache?

Gizmodo polled several veterinarians and animal behavior specialists to find out, and the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Although a dog can’t express discomfort in a specific way, particularly if it doesn’t involve limping, animal experts know that canines that have diagnosed brain tumors or encephalitis can also be observed to have a high heart rate, a sign of physical pain. According to Tim Bentley, an associate professor of veterinary neurology and neurosurgery at Purdue Veterinary Medicine, administering painkillers will bring a dog’s heart rate down. If signs of physical distress also decrease, a headache was likely involved.

Unfortunately, not all dogs may offer overt signals they’re feeling some brain pain. According to Adam Boyko, an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, dogs instinctively try to mask pain to avoid showing weakness.

Ultimately, dogs have many of the same central neural pathways as humans, which can likely go awry in some of the same ways. But the kind of persistent headaches owing to head colds or hangovers are probably rare in dogs. And while it goes without saying, they definitely don't need any of your Advil.

[h/t Gizmodo]