March 28, 2014

Person hugging tree.     Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

World's Biggest Tree Hug

Portland earns Guinness World Record

Validating every stereotype you've learned from Portlandia, Guinness World Records confirmed Tuesday that the Oregon city officially holds the world record for the largest tree hug.

For one full minute, 936 people, including a newly married bride and groom, wrapped their arms around a tree at Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park in July 2013. The previous record of only 720 tree huggers was set in the United Kingdom in 2011.

Portland's prestigious status as the preeminent tree-hugging destination might not stand for long. Scotland already attempted to best the record, hosting a tree-hugging fest last December that has yet to be confirmed.

Leaving nothing to chance, Portland has already scheduled a larger world-record attempt this summer.

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A Minke whale and her 1-year-old calf are dragged aboard the Nisshin Maru, a Japanese whaling vessel that is the world's only factory ship.     Photo: Customs and Border Protection/Wikimedia

Big Win Looms for Anti-Whaling Activists

Japan's whaling in the Antarctic Ocean might be over

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Sea Shepherd crew was accused of causing fires on the Nisshin Maru. At the time of the fire, New Zealand authorities cleared anti-whaling protesters of any wrongdoing, noting that they were two days sail away. Outside regrets the error.

This Monday, March 31, a ruling at The Hague on Japan’s whaling activity in the Antarctic Ocean might mark the end of an era. Although Japan has subsidized a robust whaling program since 1987—under the auspices of a research project, meant to discover whether commercial whaling is environmentally sustainable—critics outside of Japan have contended that the research project is a mere cover for allowing commercial whaling to continue, and for years, the project was condemned by environmental groups including Greenpeace, and by more radical groups such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).

Sea Shepherd has attracted international attention for direct actions against Japanese whaling ships, including disabling whaling vessels at harbor, destruction of drift nets at sea, and nailing shut scuppers through which whale blood was released into the ocean.

A 2007 New Yorker profile of Paul Watson, a founder of the SSCS, included a long list of national governments that denounce their activities at sea, in spite of widespread opposition to whaling in places like Australia. Preferring to voice their opposition by more conventional means, in 2010 Australia brought a suit against Japan at the International Court of Justice, arguing that the project violated a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission. Should the court decide against Japan, it will more than likely mean an end to their ostensible research in the Antarctic Ocean.

The decision will come at an already strained moment for Japan’s whale market. The subsidy program supporting whaling research is in deep debt, and the Nisshin Maru, itself, is in dire need of repairs. To top this all off, the demand for whale meat in Japan is in noticeable decline, according to a report in the Associated Press. Apart from a few beach towns that practice small-scale whaling on their own, consumption is limited to school lunches, specialty restaurants, and the odd mariachi band.

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Changi Airport Controller Tower at Night.     Photo: Getty Images

The World's Best Airports

Singapore Changi Airport Takes Gold

Singapore's Changi Airport has a swimming pool, an on-site movie theater, trails, and a butterfly garden to entertain the kids during those especially stressful layovers. So it’s no surprise that for the second year in a row, Changi has been named the world's best airport.

The World Airport Awards are based on surveys conducted by Skytrax, an international travel research firm, which polled 12.85 million passengers across 110 nationalities about 395 airports worldwide, CNN reports.

Incheon International Airport in South Korea took second place, with its elaborate  “Korean Cultural Street” —a strip of buildings complete with traditional constructions such as a giwa (tiled roof) and jeongjas (pavilions).

Here's the complete top ten list:

  1. Singapore Changi Airport
  2. Incheon International Airport (South Korea)
  3. Munich Airport (Germany)
  4. Hong Kong International Airport
  5. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
  6. Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)
  7. Beijing Capital International Airport
  8. Zurich Airport (Switzerland)
  9. Vancouver International Airport (Canada)
  10. London Heathrow Airport (England)
Looking for an American airport? Consider San Francisco International's Terminal 3, which Outside named Best Airport in our 2014 Travel Awards

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Buddy, a chocolate Labrador retriever, was rescued and returned to his family after surviving in the debris.     Photo: Stephanie Slein/YouTube

WATCH: Family Dog Rescued in Mudslide

Pup survives in the rubble

When the Kuntz family returned to their home in Oso, Washington, after Saturday's mudslide, they feared the worst for their beloved dog, Buddy. But in one of the few positive twists of the Pacific Northwest disaster, Buddy, a chocolate Labrador retriever, survived the slide and was successfully rescued and returned to his family. 

"We were looking through all the rubble, and we heard the dog whining," explained Quinton Kuntz. "I just broke down crying, really happy that my dog was alright."

The Kuntz family had gone to a baseball game the day of the slide and left Buddy and their cat, who is still missing, at home. They returned to find their house crushed and some 150 feet away from its base. Linda McPherson, an aunt in the Kuntz family, lived next door and, sadly, was killed in the slide.

As rescue efforts continue in the Snohomish County mudslide, dogs have been some of the most effective rescue tools. Highly trained rescue and cadaver dogs are now on site leading their trainers and rescue workers to buried bodies. 

The large scale of the mudslide’s debris field and sheer number of bodies is reportedly exhausting the rescue dogs. "I always hope I find somebody alive, and I always have that expectation that we're going to, partially because my dog feels my emotions," says Lisa Bishop of Northwest Disaster Search Dogs, who works with a border collie.

If one dog signals it has picked up a scent, another dog is brought in to refine the target point before searchers begin digging with shovels. 

The official death toll stands at 16 as of Friday morning; however, nine additional bodies have yet to be confirmed. With 90 people still missing, the death toll is expected to rise significantly

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A Maine man saved a baby porcupine from its mother's womb after she was hit by a car.     Photo: A_Lein/Getty Images

Man Rescues Baby Porcupine

After mother was killed by a car

What started as a search for medicinal mushrooms ended with an emergency porcupine C-section on the side of the road.  

Maine resident Jared Buzzel was on his way to collect mushrooms—which he uses as medicine—this week when he saw the car in front of him hit a porcupine. 

Buzzel, whose uncle had told him porcupines carry a valuable mineral in their stomachs, slowed down to check on the animal. When he confirmed it was dead, he cut open the porcupine’s stomach to see if his uncle’s story was true.  

He didn’t find any mystical stones. Instead, a baby porcupine fell out of its mother's womb as soon as Buzzel cut the sack open. "[I] cut the umbilical cord, put it in a hat. We thought it was dead, then I started massaging it and all kinds of stuff starting coming out of its lungs so it started breathing," he told a local news station.

Now he's taken on the role of porcupine babysitter, at least until the animal can go to a rescue shelter. The baby needs to be fed every two to three hours.

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Illustration of Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).     Photo: Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Whale Sets Diving Record

Becomes the deepest-diving mammal on the planet

Researchers from the Cascadia Research Collective have tracked a new record-setting dive by the Cuvier's beaked whale. While studying eight whales off the coast of Southern California, biologists were astonished to find the mammal can reach depths of 10,000 feet—or two miles—below the surface, making the Cuvier's beaked whale the deepest-diving mammal on the planet.

Resembling a bloated bottlenose dolphin, the Cuvier's beaked whale has always been known for its diving capabilities. During the study, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, biologist Greg Schorr and his team collected more than 3,732 hours of dive data. When one of the whales took its satellite-linked tag two miles deep, the researchers checked their instruments, thinking it was an error. Soon after, a second whale set another record when it stayed submerged for 138 minutes. Most mammals would experience high-pressure nervous syndrome and the collapse of all air-filled spaces in the body at such depths, but the Cuvier's beaked whale seems immune. They are essentially crush-resistant.

Thought to be sensitive to sound, Cuvier's beaked whales have in recent years fallen victim to man-made sonar activity, dying in mass beachings in the Mediterranean Sea, Canary Islands, and the Bahamas. Cuvier's beaked whales are one of the most frequently spotted beaked whales and have a worldwide population of nearly 100,000.

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