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WebClawer: Research vessel strikes whale; prehistoric seal with arms discovered; Oregon dog maces family

April 26, 2009 |  8:47 am


From whales to spiders to prehistoric seals, the Web is full of animal news today:

-- Jennifer Fearing is a force to be reckoned with and a rising star in the animal protection movement.  Fearing, who holds a Harvard graduate degree and left a high-paying job at a consulting firm to work for the group United Animal Nations in 2003, became the chief economist at the Humane Society of the United States a few years later.  Last year, she ran the Humane Society's Proposition 2 campaign; now, she's its lobbyist in Sacramento.  Fearing is an unlikely staffer at the predominantly liberal-leaning Humane Society; raised a Republican, Air Force brat and devout Protestant in the Midwest, she once interned for the senior President Bush. (Fearing grew disillusioned with the GOP a few years back and registered Independent, she says.)  Our colleague Eric Bailey has a great and insightful interview with the Humane Society's dynamo. (L.A. Times)

-- A research vessel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- a federal agency charged with protecting whales -- struck an endangered right whale off the Massachusetts coast.  The ship's propeller lacerated the whale's fluke, although its injuries didn't appear life-threatening. Right whales are considered especially susceptible to injury by boat; indeed, ship strikes are the leading cause of death for the species.  "To me, if it can happen to NOAA, it can happen to anybody," said Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "Therefore, everybody needs to up the ante and up their vigilance and take the issue much more seriously." (Telegraph)

-- Researchers have discovered a prehistoric seal with "arms," which it likely used to walk on land as gracefully as it swam in the ocean. Puijila darwini, as the species has been named, is believed to be the as-yet-unknown "missing link" between seals' land-based ancestors and the flippered pinnipeds that evolved from them.  P. darwini, which measured about 3 1/2 feet in length, resembled a modern otter; its skeleton was found in the Canadian Arctic.  It's being called "an important transition fossil" by Natalia Rybczynski, a vertebrate paleontologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature, who was the lead author of a study about the "armed" seal.  (National Geographic)

-- An Oregon hazmat team was called to a home when the residents reported experiencing burning eyes and throats and having trouble breathing.  Turned out, the family dog had apparently mistaken a mace canister for a chew toy. (KATU News Portland)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Jennifer Fearing.  Credit: Robert Durell / For the Times

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