June 24, 2014

You're never entirely alone in the water.     Photo: Stasiek Pytel/ThinkStock

Shark Attacks Projected to Increase

Come on in—the water might be fine

Summer temperatures might be hitting unbearable degrees, but consider other ways to keep cool before cannonballing off the coast into marine waters. U.S. shark experts say there will be more shark attacks along beaches this summer than last. 

According to the Florida Program for Shark Research, the top three reasons for the increase are that more people are going into the water, there are more sharks on both coasts, and global warming means shoreline waters get warmer earlier, prompting people to spend more days waterborne. 

The program is in a unique position to make such claims. Director George Burgess and his colleagues conducted the most recent census of great white sharks. They wound up with supporting evidence for the idea that sharks don't need extra protection from us bony appetizers. Discovering that there are more than 2,400 great whites off the coast of California, the program bolstered the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's position that this population of the species should not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The study was a response to another study claiming there were only 219 sharks in the area.

Although news of increased shark-attack risk is no reason to jump for joy, the flip side of the matter is: Sharks are apex predators—meaning they dominate their given food chain—and apex predator population size gives indications to the health of the overall food chain.

"If something is wrong with the largest, most powerful group in the sea, then something is wrong with the sea, so it's a relief to find they're in good shape," Burgess said in an interview with Discovery News. He suggests that U.S. regulatory agencies and their conservation measures, many initiated under the impression that sharks needed help, have done a lot to help sharks boost their numbers.

CAVEAT: Before you let the Jaws theme become the soundtrack to your life, put these numbers in perspective. The reasons for the rise don't necessarily correlate with increased aggression. Not only that, but this past summer, there were 27 shark attacks, with only one proving fatal. Moreover, sharks don't actively seek human sustenance, instead preferring fish, seals, sea lions, and recently, unprotected bags of chum.

When Outside did an interview with Burgess in late 2012, he offered great context for why most shark attacks happen in this country:

The U.S. has a large coastline and is a very large country. We have two major continental coastlines plus Hawaii, so we're probably one of the biggest areas for shark-inhabited coastline around. Plus, you have a large population that has the means and the interest to enter the water on a daily basis. Because we're a rich country, we have the ability to spend money to go to the beach and do it in style. We also have in some quarters, particularly in Florida and Hawaii, the ability to enter the water year-round. It's not surprising that Florida leads the U.S. in incidents and, in fact, is usually the geographic region in the world with the most incidents. It's entirely predictable based on the number of humans in the water and the number of sharks.

If you are interested in boning up on ways to avoid becoming contents of a cartilaginous belly, Burgess has some tips:

  • Stay in groups.
  • Swim during daylight hours.
  • Don't enter waterways at waterway openings, sandbars, or places where depths shift dramatically. "Fish tend to concentrate in these areas, drawing sharks like a loud dinner bell," Burgess said.
  • Don't dress to impress. Just as we're attracted to shiny things, sharks are attracted to glittery accessories that can be misinterpreted as fish scales.

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It took dozens of images for Curiosity to put together this composite selfie. At the same time, the rover drilled into a sandstone area called Windjana; you can see where the drilling occurred in some photos.     Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Rover Takes a Selfie

Commemorating one Martian year on the planet

The Curiosity rover has been puttering around Mars for 687 Earth days—that's one Martian year. In a nod to its celebrity status on Earth and our love of gratuitous photography, the rover celebrated by taking a selfie.

It's probably the best selfie that exists this side of the Milky Way, and it definitely took the most effort. Curiosity stitched together multiple shots taken by stretching out its robotic arm and firing away.

Let's not let this distract us from the very impressive things Curiosity has already accomplished on Mars: namely, meeting NASA's main goal of understanding whether Mars has ever been habitable. In its explorations, Curiosity drilled into what used to be a lake bed—definitely a habitable environment for microbial life at the very least.

Now it's back to work for our robotic hero. NASA released a video today outlining what Curiosity has accomplished so far and what's next. The highlight for the coming year is a very long drive westward to the base of Mount Sharp. Curiosity will study the layered rocks there, which researchers think have captured major climate changes in Mars history.

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The Aleutian Islands chain in Alaska was near the epicenter of yesterday's quake.     Photo: steadyrain/Flickr

7.9 Magnitude Earthquake in Alaska

Depth of quake may have prevented tsunami

Yesterday afternoon, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck in the vicinity of Little Sitkin Island in the western part of Alaska's Aleutian Islands chain. The earthquake occurred at 12:53 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time (4:53 p.m. EST).

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred at a depth of 66.8 miles, or 107.5 kilometers, which is significantly deeper than previous earthquakes in the region, including an M7.9 earthquake in 1996 and an M8.7 earthquake in 1965. 

The main jolt was followed by 21 aftershocks, the largest of which recorded magnitudes of 6.0 and 5.8, respectively.

The National Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for portions of the Aleutians stretching from Nikolski to Attu. "Widespread dangerous coastal flooding accompanied by powerful currents are possible and may continue for hours after tsunami arrival," read the NTWC bulletin. 

In Adak, Alaska, residents evacuated the town and gathered on a nearby elevation where the town's primary evacuation center is located. "We're seeing water leave our bay, so we do have everybody up on the Bering Hill area, where our primary evacuation center is at," City Manager Layton Lockett told the Associated Press.

The tsunami advisory has since been downgraded, with only several-inch-high waves hitting coastal communities. The depth of the earthquake likely mitigated the risk of the dangerous coastal flooding that has occurred after such events in the past.

Read more about earthquakes on Outside Online:

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So this is how the West was won.     Photo: Wikimedia

Best Mountain Bike Trail in the East

Duluth's Piedmont

Last week, Duluth was voted Outside's Best Place to Live. This week, the Minnesota gem received another honor: According to Singletrack.com, the town has the most scenic mountain bike trail in the Eastern United States.

Duluth's technical 10-mile Piedmont Trail garnered 225 of 1,100 votes to claim the top spot. "While this is undoubtedly a very scenic trail (that's why it ended up on our list), I wonder if the Minnesotans have just gotten really good at voting in online contests?" writes Singletrack.com editor Greg Heil. "After all, Duluth just won Outside's Best Town of 2014 poll… either way, I really need to plan another Duluth visit ASAP!"

The rest of the top five are as follows:

2. Raccoon Mountain; Chattanooga, Tennessee
3. Dupont State Forest; Brevard, North Carolina
4. Copper Harbor Trails; Cooper Harbor, Michigan
5. Tsali; Bryson City, North Carolina

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