An Arctic “miracle“: Icebreaker salvages lost recordings of Beluga whales

A helicopter from the Swedish icebreaker Oden lands on an ice floe to pick up crew members involved in the retrieval of a scientific acoustic recorder containing valuable data on Arctic marine life movements in the Canadian Arctic July 25, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 August 2019
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An Arctic “miracle“: Icebreaker salvages lost recordings of Beluga whales

  • Loose was speaking in video footage transmitted from the Oden to his university and shared with Reuters

KIRUNA, Sweden: A year-long recording of the songs of Beluga whales has been salvaged from the Arctic after the crew of a Swedish icebreaker chanced upon a research buoy adrift in hazardous pack ice.
A team tracking the device from California said they had almost given it up for lost when a “miracle” run of events allowed the vessel, the Oden, to stage an impromptu rescue while navigating through a channel in the far north of Canada.
“We were watching it drift away via satellite and it happened to drift past the Oden. It’s great, amazing luck,” said Josh Jones, a graduate student researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
“Because it was stuck in heavy pack ice, it would have been only a matter of time before it would have been torn apart,” Jones told Reuters by telephone.
Scripps began deploying the buoy for year-long stints on the seabed in the Barrow Strait in the Canadian Arctic in 2013, aiming to use the sounds it registered to better understand the impact of climate change on the region’s marine life.
The buoy would record ambient ocean noises, from the whir of passing ships’ propellers or the vibrations of distant offshore oil drilling, to the high-pitched clicks of Beluga whales. The sounds — inaudible to humans — have earned the gregarious species the nickname “canaries of the sea.”
The eerie music of narwhals, known for their long “tusks,” and the sounds made by bowhead whales and bearded seals were also captured by the sensitive underwater equipment.
But two consecutive summers of heavy pack ice have prevented Jones and Randy Nungaq, a resident of Resolute Bay, from conducting their annual boat trip to maintain the buoy since 2017. The instrument only resurfaced in mid-July when a passing iceberg appears to have dragged it up from the seafloor.

MENACED BY ICE
Jones said he monitored the buoy as it drifted loose for about 10 days, fearing all the while that massive ice sheets would crush the device like a “trash compactor.”
It was pure chance that the Oden was passing nearby, carrying US and Canadian scientists on a 2,000-nautical mile voyage through the Northwest Passage to raise awareness of the risks fast-melting sea ice pose to Earth’s climate.
The Oden, operated by the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, scrambled a helicopter to pinpoint the buoy.
The crew initially tried to retrieve the instrument using a small boat, but then resorted to the riskier option of using the Oden’s thrusters and reinforced prow to prise it from an ice floe on July 25.
Two men were hoisted over fast-flowing water by a crane then lowered to the level of the ice, where one of them crouched down to hack through the buoy’s mooring with a knife.
“I think it’s groundbreaking because it’s basically mapping the passage of whales and other marine mammals through these really important passageways between the Pacific and the Atlantic,” said Brice Loose, the chief scientist for the Oden expedition, known as the Northwest Passage Project.
“So really more than the loss of the instrument, it’s the loss of the data if we weren’t able to recover this, and so that’s why we’re here,” said Loose, a professor at the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.
Loose was speaking in video footage transmitted from the Oden to his university and shared with Reuters.
The Northwest Passage Project, which groups various academic institutions, has staged three live broadcasts from the Oden via social media and dozens of public events in the United States.
The icebreaker cast off from Thule, Greenland on July 18 and has conducted a series of experiments with the help of students on board. The vessel is due to return to Thule on Sunday. 


Say cheese: Japanese scientists make robot face ‘smile’ with living skin

Updated 18 July 2024
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Say cheese: Japanese scientists make robot face ‘smile’ with living skin

TOKYO: Japanese scientists have devised a way to attach living skin tissue to robotic faces and make them “smile,” in a breakthrough that holds out promise of applications in cosmetics and medicine.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo grew human skin cells in the shape of a face and pulled it into a wide grin, using embedded ligament-like attachments.
The result, though eerie, is an important step toward building more life-like robots, said lead researcher Shoji Takeuchi.
“By attaching these actuators and anchors, it became possible to manipulate living skin for the first time,” he added.

Minghao Nie, a researcher of University of Tokyo shows a face mold covered in human skin tissue at his lab in Tokyo on July 12, 2024. (REUTERS)

The smiling robot, featured in a study published online last month by Cell Reports Physical Science, is the fruit of a decade of research by Takeuchi and his lab on how best to combine biological and artificial machines.
Living tissue has numerous advantages over metals and plastics, Takeuchi said, ranging from the energy efficiency of brains and muscles to skin’s ability to repair itself.
Looking ahead, the researchers aim to add more elements to the lab-grown skin, including a circulatory system and nerves. That could lead to safer testing platforms for cosmetics and drugs absorbed through the skin.
It could also produce more realistic and functional coverings for robots. Still, there remains the challenge of ridding people of the strange or unnerving feelings evoked by machines that fall just short of being entirely convincing.
“There’s still a bit of that creepiness to it,” Takeuchi acknowledged about the robot. “I think that making robots out of the same materials as humans and having them show the same expressions might be one key to overcoming the uncanny valley.”


Paris mayor dips into the Seine River to showcase its improved cleanliness before Olympic events

Updated 17 July 2024
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Paris mayor dips into the Seine River to showcase its improved cleanliness before Olympic events

  • Dip at Seine part of a broader effort to showcase the river’s improved cleanliness ahead of the Summer Games
  • Daily water quality tests in early June indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria, followed by recent improvements

PARIS: After months of anticipation, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo took a dip in the Seine River on Wednesday, fulfilling a promise she made months ago to show the river is clean enough to host open-swimming competitions during the 2024 Olympics — and the opening ceremony on the river nine days away.
Clad in a wetsuit, Hidalgo plunged into the river near the imposing-looking City Hall, her office, and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet and the top government official for the Paris region, Marc Guillaume, joined her.
“The water is very, very good. A little cool, but not so bad,’’ Hidalgo said upon emerging.
It’s part of a broader effort to showcase the river’s improved cleanliness ahead of the Summer Games which will kick off July 26 with a lavish open-air ceremony that includes an athletes’ parade on boats on the Seine. Daily water quality tests in early June indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria, followed by recent improvements.
Since 2015, organizers have invested heavily — $1.5 billion — to prepare the Seine for the Olympics and to ensure Parisians have a cleaner river in the years after the Games. The plan included constructing a giant underground water storage basin in central Paris, renovating sewer infrastructure, and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.
Despite being a recurring promise among politicians, swimming in the Seine has been banned for over a century. Jacques Chirac, the former French president, made a similar pledge in 1988 when he was Paris mayor, but it was never realized.
Hidalgo will follow in the footsteps of French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castara, who swam in the Seine on Saturday wearing a full-body suit.
Originally planned for June, Hidalgo’s swim was postponed due to snap parliamentary elections in France. On the initial date, the hashtag ”jechiedanslaSeine” (“I’m pooping in the Seine”) trended on social media as some threatened to protest the Olympics by defecating upstream.
Concerns over the Seine’s flow and pollution levels have persisted, prompting daily water quality tests by the monitoring group Eau de Paris. Results in early June indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria, followed by recent improvements.
The Seine will host several open water swimming events during the Games, including marathon swimming at the Olympic Games and the swimming legs of the Olympic and Paralympic triathlons.


Trump website features image of his bloody face to raise funds

Updated 15 July 2024
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Trump website features image of his bloody face to raise funds

WASHINGTON: Former US President Donald Trump’s website featured an image of him with a bloodied face on Monday morning to urge supporters to donate to his campaign and come together in the spirit of unity and peace following this weekend’s shooting.
The website redirected prospective donors to a page on fundraising platform WinRed that shows a black and white image taken by an Associated Press photographer that Trump has described as “iconic.”
It shows the Republican candidate’s face streaked with blood and his fist raised in defiance after a bullet pierced his upper right ear at a rally in Pennsylvania. The image was captioned with the words “FEAR NOT” written in upper case letters.
A message below the image read: “Unity. Peace. Make America Great Again.” The page also carried Trump’s signature and gave visitors to the website options to contribute at different levels.
In an interview published late on Sunday by the New York Post, Trump spoke about the images taken of him immediately after he was shot, including the photo featured on his campaign website.
“A lot of people say it’s the most iconic photo they’ve ever seen,” Trump was quoted as saying in the New York Post. “They’re right and I didn’t die. Usually you have to die to have an iconic picture.”
Trump, who is running against Democratic US President Joe Biden in November’s election, was shot by a 20-year-old man with a semiautomatic rifle on Saturday at the rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, authorities said.
One Trump supporter who attended the rally was killed, two others were wounded and the suspect was shot dead by security agents. The FBI said it was investigating the shooting as an assassination attempt.
Leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties, including Trump and Biden, appealed to the bitterly divided country to unite and maintain calm after the shooting.
A GoFundMe campaign backed by Trump for the victims of the shooting at the former president’s rally had raised over $3.5 million by the end of Sunday.


Wedding party resumes for son of Asia’s richest man

Updated 13 July 2024
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Wedding party resumes for son of Asia’s richest man

  • It follows a formal ceremony and party the previous evening attended by the likes of socialite Kim Kardashian, Tony Blair and John Cena

MUMBAI: Lavish wedding celebrations for the son of Asia’s richest man resumed Saturday with a star-studded guestlist including Hollywood celebrities, global business leaders and two former British prime ministers.
Billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son Anant and fiancee Radhika Merchant, both 29, are tying the knot over the weekend in the financial capital Mumbai following months of pre-marriage parties that have set a new benchmark in matrimonial extravagance.
Saturday will see a blessing ceremony during which the world’s rich and famous will greet and pay their respects to the couple at the wedding venue, a 16,000-capacity convention center owned by the Ambani family’s conglomerate.
It follows a formal ceremony and party the previous evening attended by the likes of socialite Kim Kardashian, actor John Cena and former British leaders Tony Blair and Boris Johnson.
Kardashian shared videos on Instagram showing the professional influencer and her sister Khloe preparing for Friday night’s festivities adorned in traditional Indian dresses and ornate jewelry.
Footage shared by the hosts showed hundreds of revellers dancing enthusiastically inside the venue wearing traditional Indian dress.
FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and Samsung chairman Jay Y. Lee were among the hundreds of other famous figures from the business, sporting and entertainment worlds to make an appearance.
“Great wedding!” China’s ambassador to India Xu Feihong wrote on social media platform X along with footage of the couple from inside the venue.
“Best wishes to the new couple and double happiness!“
This weekend’s celebrations end Sunday with a reception party and cap months of extravagant pre-wedding parties.
Earlier events this year included a party at the Ambanis’ ancestral home where a purpose-built Hindu temple was unveiled, and private performances by R&B star Rihanna and Canada’s Justin Bieber.
Guests at that gala included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and former US president Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, along with a who’s who of India’s sporting and entertainment worlds.
In June, the couple embarked on a four-day Mediterranean cruise along with 1,200 guests, with singer Katy Perry performing at a masquerade ball at a French chateau in Cannes.
The Backstreet Boys, US rapper Pitbull and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli also provided entertainment.
Anant’s father Mukesh is chairman of Reliance Industries, a family-founded conglomerate that has grown into India’s biggest company by market cap.
The patriarch is the world’s 11th richest person with a fortune of more than $123 billion, according to Forbes, and is no stranger to making a statement when it comes to family marriages.
He held the most expensive wedding in India to date for his daughter in 2018, which reportedly cost $100 million and saw US singer Beyonce perform.
The family’s lucrative interests include retail partnerships with Armani and other luxury brands, more than 40 percent of India’s mobile phone market and an Indian Premier League cricket team.
His 27-floor family home Antilia is one of Mumbai’s most prominent landmarks, reportedly costing more than $1 billion to build and with a permanent staff of 600 servants.
Merchant is the daughter of well-known pharmaceutical moguls.


Alec Baldwin weeps in court as judge announces involuntary manslaughter case is dismissed midtrial

Updated 13 July 2024
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Alec Baldwin weeps in court as judge announces involuntary manslaughter case is dismissed midtrial

SANTA FE, N.M.: A New Mexico judge on Friday brought a sudden and stunning end to the involuntary manslaughter case against Alec Baldwin, dismissing it in the middle of the actor’s trial and saying it cannot be filed again.
Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer dismissed the case based on the misconduct of police and prosecutors over the withholding of evidence from the defense in the 2021 shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film “Rust.”
Baldwin cried, hugged his two attorneys, gestured to the front of the court, then turned to hug his crying wife Hilaria, the mother of seven of his eight children, holding the embrace for 12 seconds. He climbed into an SUV outside the Santa Fe courthouse without speaking to the media.
“The late discovery of this evidence during trial has impeded the effective use of evidence in such a way that it has impacted the fundamental fairness of the proceedings,” Marlowe Sommer said. “If this conduct does not rise to the level of bad faith it certainly comes so near to bad faith to show signs of scorching.”
The evidence that sank the case, revealed during the trial’s second day of testimony Thursday, was the existence of ammunition that was brought into the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in March by a man who said it could be related to Hutchins’ killing. Prosecutors said they deemed the ammo unrelated and unimportant, while Baldwin’s lawyers alleged they “buried” it. The defense filed one of many motions they had made to dismiss the case over evidence issues. All the others were rejected. But this one took.
The judge’s decision ends the criminal culpability of the 66-year-old Baldwin after a nearly three-year saga that began when a revolver he was pointing at Hutchins during a rehearsal went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.
“Our goal from the beginning was to seek justice for Halyna Hutchins, and we fought to get this case tried on its merits,” District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the case did not get to the jury.”
The career of the “Hunt for Red October” and “30 Rock” star and frequent “Saturday Night Live” host — who has been a household name for more than three decades — had been put into doubt, and he could have gotten 18 months in prison if convicted.
Baldwin and other producers still face civil lawsuits from Hutchins’ parents and sister.
Prosecutors did get one conviction for Hutchins’ death. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film’s armorer, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on an involuntary manslaughter conviction, which she is now appealing.
Her attorney Jason Bowles said Friday that he would be filing a motion to dismiss his client’s case as well.
“The judge upheld the integrity of the system in dismissing the case,” he told The Associated Press in an email.
Marlowe Sommer put a pause on the trial earlier Friday and sent the jury home for the weekend so she could spend the day hearing testimony and arguments on the motion to dismiss.
Troy Teske, a retired police officer and a close friend of Gutierrez-Reed’s father Thell Reed who is a gun coach and armorer on movies, was the person who brought the ammunition into the sheriff’s office in March on the same day the guilty verdict in her case was read.
Teske and the ammo he said might be relevant had been known to authorities since a few weeks after the shooting, and special prosecutor Kari Morrissey had met with him last year, but they determined it was not relevant.
The evidence was collected but crucially was not put into the same file as the rest of the “Rust” case, and was not presented to Baldwin’s defense team when they examined the ballistics evidence in April. They defense would argue that they should have had a chance to weigh in on the evidence’s importance, and that the prosecution “buried” it.
The issue came up during the defense questioning Thursday of sheriff’s crime scene technician Marissa Poppell, who acknowledged receiving the ammo, a moment that the judge watched on a police supervisor’s body camera on Friday.
Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey argued that the emergence of the ammunition was part of an attempt by Reed to shift blame away from his daughter.
“This is a wild goose chase that has no evidentiary value whatsoever,” Morrissey told the judge during the hearing. “This is just a man trying to protect his daughter.”
The case’s other special prosecutor, Erlinda Ocampo Johnson, resigned from the case earlier Friday. Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro asked whether she had resigned based on the evidence issues being discussed. Morrissey said she believed it was over the holding of the public hearing itself.
Speaking outside the courthouse doors, Morrissey said she respects the judge’s decision but that there was no reason to believe the undisclosed evidence in question was related to the set of “Rust.”
The trial had barely begun when it was brought to a close. Prosecutors had only started to make their case, and none of the eyewitnesses from the set had testified yet.
Baldwin’s younger brother Stephen Baldwin and older sister Elizabeth Keuchler, both actors themselves, sat behind him in the gallery next to his wife each day of the trial, which was streamed live by AP and Court TV. Reporters from both coasts filled the small courtroom, and had stations outside for arrivals and departures of trial players.
The judge dealt a serious blow to the prosecution’s case when on the eve of the trial on Monday when she ruled that Baldwin’s role as a producer on the film was not relevant and had to be left out.
Still, prosecutors forged ahead, painting Baldwin in their openings as a reckless performer who “played make-believe” while flouting basic gun safety rules.
Baldwin’s attorney Spiro argued that he did only what actors always do on the “Rust” set, and that the necessary safety steps must be taken before a gun reaches a performer’s hand.