Where were the whales?

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Each fall, Pacific Ocean humpback whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds near Alaska and Russia to the warm waters further south. In these places, the whales spend their winters finding mates, breeding, and giving birth to and rearing calves conceived the previous winter. Or, they normally do. This past winter, the whales, by and large, failed to show up.

Whale researchers from around the Pacific are reporting that far fewer whales showed up in their usual wintering grounds than normal. Those that did make it arrived later, departed earlier, and appeared to be far less active than usual, spending less time at the surface and making longer dives.

Read the rest of my story for Hakai here.

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“Cool Jobs: Getting to know volcanoes”

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In my latest “cool jobs” story for Science News for Students, I profile a vulcanologist who studies magma, an infrasound scientist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, and an atmospheric scientist at the University of Hawaii who helps predict the spread of vog. Read the full story here.

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Thank you, readers!

I was thrilled to see that my reporting on “rejections” in the aquarium-fish trade was among the most-shared stories in Hakai magazine’s first year. Thank you for reading and sharing my work, and read more of Hakai‘s most popular stories here!

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“Cool Jobs: Mapping the Unknown”

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Two hundred million years ago, Earth looked very different. Its landmass was pushed together into one giant continent. Today scientists refer to it as Pangaea. Over time, the rocky plates that make up Earth’s crust split this mega-continent apart. The plates later ripped those new continents apart, too, moving them around and smooshing some of them back together again. What resulted was the world we see on maps today.

But what did our planet look like while all of this was happening? That’s what Sabin Zahirovic is working to find out. “It’s a journey of discovery, and sometimes undiscovery, that’s exciting,” he says.

Today, GPS systems in our phones can tell us exactly where we are and how to get where we want to go. It seems like every inch of our planet has been explored. Still, some places — and times — remain unmapped.

“Earth has changed so much that it’s really a privilege to be able to look into the past. It’s the closest thing we have to time travel,” Zahirovic says.

From the ocean floor, to the mysterious force of dark energy, to the movement of continents, here are three scientists who are venturing into uncharted territory.

Read the rest of my story for Science News for Students here.

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1 in 4 aquarium fish “rejected”

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Export data and international trade records have long suggested that millions of fish caught for home aquariums die along the complex supply chain from fish wholesalers to hobbyists’ tanks. But these trade statistics, in many cases the only source of information available, omit a crucial stage in the aquarium fish industry: what happens to fish before they start that long journey up the supply chain. Now, a new study has revealed that at least a quarter of the home-aquarium-bound fish caught in Papua New Guinea are rejected, and usually dumped back in the ocean, with negative consequences for the environment. It’s a toll that, until now, had been largely overlooked.

Read the rest of my story for Hakai magazine here.

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Tracking the devastating sea cucumber fishery

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Soft, slimy, and wrinkled, they looked like a heap of waterlogged, disembodied phalluses.

The photographs, snapped by bystanders in the spring of 2015, showed sea cucumbers being hauled away from Hawai‘i’s beaches by the truckload. The animals slid over one another in a pool of mucus. As the images began spiraling through social media channels, locals reacted with surprise and dismay. Sea cucumbers had slunk peacefully along the seafloor for generations, largely ignored and unnoticed, so why were they suddenly under siege, plucked by the thousands from Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters? What would happen to the reefs without them? And where were they all going?

Read the rest of my feature story for Hakai magazine here.

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Cleaning teeth with bubbles?

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People with sensitive teeth often hate visiting the dentist. One reason: Having their teeth cleaned and polished can hurt. Now, scientists have taken a close-up look at the tool that dentists use for that cleaning — and the tiny bubbles it creates. They think their work could lead to a new tool that can clean teeth without ever touching them. It would simply let the bubbles do the scrubbing.

Read the rest of my story for Science News for Students here.

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Does astronomy have a future in Hawaii?

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For weeks, the astronomers, technicians and support staff working on Mauna Kea watched the protesters.

Native Hawaiians and others opposed to the massive Thirty Meter Telescope gathered near the 9,000-foot mark, their encampment near Hale Pohaku, the small campus where observatory workers stay when they’re not at the summit. In March, the protesters blocked the summit road, stopping construction vehicles. Then, on April 2, observatory workers watched in shock as 12 were arrested.

Doug Simons, director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, and a 30-year veteran of Mauna Kea observatories, says the moment was a wake-up call for everyone on the mountain. “I realized things have fundamentally changed with Hawaii astronomy,” he says.

Read the rest of my story for Hawaii Business magazine on the future of Hawaii astronomy here.

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Does the universe’s acceleration create the right conditions for life?

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Scientists have known for several years now that stars, galaxies, and almost everything in the universe is moving away from us (and from everything else) at a faster and faster pace. Now, it turns out that the unknown forces behind the rate of this accelerating expansion—a mathematical value called the cosmological constant—may play a previously unexplored role in creating the right conditions for life.

Read the rest of my recent story for Science here.

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“Author lets you take all the credit”

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I profile local ghostwriter Leslie Lang in the current issue of Hawaii Business magazine. Read the full story here.

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Sustainable shark fishing? Shark scientists say yes.

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A new survey of shark and ray researchers takes a bite out of the popular belief that shark fishing and the shark fin trade should be banned. As it turns out, a large majority of shark experts believe that sustainable fisheries are not only possible, they are actually preferable to protecting sharks with sanctuaries or outright bans on fishing.

The result may seem counterintuitive, acknowledges lead author David Shiffman, but the finding points to the fact that wildlife conservation is more nuanced than the general public tends to appreciate. While people may believe that all shark species are endangered, and that any form of shark fishing threatens to push populations to collapse, Shiffman says the best available science evidence does not support those ideas.

Read the rest of my story for Hakai magazine here.

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Hawaii wastes 26 percent of available food supply

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We may buy that clamshell of beautiful, ripe strawberries with the best of intentions – pancakes! cobbler! fruit salad! – but when the end of the week comes and they’re getting soft and fuzzy in the back of the produce drawer, we’re likely to throw them in the trash. Multiply that process by several thousand households, and you’ll get a mountain of moldy berries.

How big is that mountain? That’s the question UH economists Matthew Loke and PingSun Leung set out to answer, with a study aimed at quantifying Hawaii’s food waste. Their findings, published in 2015 in the journal Waste Management & Research, estimate that, even as Hawaii residents pay some of the highest food prices in the country, we still throw out around 237,000 tons of food per year, or more than 26 percent of the available food supply.

Read the rest of my story for Hawaii Business magazine here.

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First discovery of an NEO by ATLAS telescope

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The term “killer asteroid” might bring to mind the kind of massive space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago. But such a large object — around 5 to 15 kilometers (3 to 8 miles) across — might hit Earth only once every few hundred million years. Smaller space objects hit more often. And even these minis can be dangerous. An asteroid just 45 meters (50 yards) wide could destroy a city. But the first in a new two-telescope system in Hawaii has just begun scanningthe skies for such “city-killers.” And what it finds might give people a life-saving warning of their approach.

Read the rest of my story for Science News for Students here.

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