June 21 (UPI) -- Bird watchers in California are keeping tabs on an unusual avian family after a pair of bald eagles started to raise a red-tailed hawk baby alongside their own eaglet.
Jann Nichols, a contributing editor on the Friends of the Redding Eagles Facebook page, said a photographer snapped a picture of an eagle bringing a hawklet to its nest in May and initially believed the baby bird was meant to be prey for the larger bird's own young.
The photographer returned a week later and was shocked to see two baby hawks being fed and cared for by the eagle couple alongside their own eaglet.
Nichols started making weekly trips to observe the family in Santa Clara County. She said one of the baby hawks died of unknown causes in early June, but the eagle parents have continued to raise the other hawklet.
Nichols said the hawk appeared to fall from the nest on one occasion, but was rescued by the mother eagle.
Birders dubbed the hawklet Tuffy 2 in honor of Tuffy, red-tailed hawk previously adopted by eagles in Redding, Calif.
David Hancock, an eagle biologist based in British Columbia, said he is aware of only three previous cases of eagle parents adopting a baby bird of another species.
June 21 (UPI) -- Mountain snow in a Utah county is turning shades of red, pink and orange due to what experts said is a phenomenon called watermelon snow.
Visitors to the Cache County mountains captured photos showing the unusual hue to the remaining snow, and scientists said it is a natural phenomenon caused by a blooming green algae, Chlamydomonas nivalis, which is found in mountain ranges around the world.
"The snow algae produce a pigment that basically darkens their cells, and it acts as both a protection against UV, so it protects their DNA and other aspects of their organelles from damage because they're in such a bright place," Hotaling told KTVX-TV.
"But then also, it has a secondary benefit of causing their cells to absorb heat which melts the snow around them which allows them to actually access water because, you know, we're out here in a world of water right now but none of it is accessible," he said.
Scientists said earlier this year that the amount of the algae found in the western United States could be contributing to drought conditions.
"There's a lot of evidence now that shows that these algal blooms contribute rather significantly to overall melt of snowpack around the West," Scott Hotaling, a professor in the Watershed Sciences Department at Utah State University, told KUER radio.
Residents of one pocket of unincorporated Tarrant County, about 15 minutes outside Fort Worth, had a problem: A new neighbor set up a fireworks stand on his truck lot.
There are loose zoning laws and limited fireworks regulations in unincorporated areas of the county, but there are a few legal protections, and neighbors – worried about their quality of life and stress on their pets – started looking for loopholes.
Abby Church, who covers Tarrant County for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said that without political representation in a city, residents went to the Tarrant County commissioners.
"A big band of them spoke during the public comment section," Church said. "The commissioner who represents the area, her name is Alisa Simmons, she ended up calling a meeting with a couple of members of the county that includes the Fire Marshal's office, the DA's office, everything like that. And it was basically a meeting of the minds trying to figure out how we are going to get to a solution here."
One option was for residents to lobby state lawmakers in Austin, since a lot of unincorporated areas are governed by state laws. But the neighbors came up with another solution, Church said.
"The neighbors were looking through what is in the fireworks code and on the first line in the prohibited line, there is something that says that fireworks cannot be shot within 600 feet of a church," she said. "So what the neighbors then did was pose a question, and they said, 'do we have to build a church to protect ourselves?' And there was someone in the meeting who laughed, but the neighbors were not joking."
Two churches have gone up in the neighborhood since then.
"One of the guys in the neighborhood, he made Faith United Cowboy Church," Church said. "What he told me is that he was trying to make a church for a pretty long time, and this was basically God's timing – this whole thing just kind of happened and pushed him into making this decision. But the other church was more of a neighborhood effort, and it's called the Church of Peace and Quiet, at another man's house."
Church said this works because in Texas – and federally – there is not a strict legal definition for what counts as a church.
"When you get into wanting to be exempt from taxes and getting 501(c)(3) status, there are rules that come with that," she said. "But most of the definitions, whether that is with the state comptroller's office or with the IRS, they focus more around the congregation rather than having an actual building."
After the churches were established, the neighbors filed for a temporary restraining order against the truck lot owner.
"A judge signed off on that yesterday. And there are a bunch of very specific stipulations in there where the owner of the lot is not allowed to shoot off fireworks. They are not allowed to have trucks idle for a certain amount of time between certain periods of the day," Church said. "So we are just waiting to see what happens with both parties. So I will say, though, it's been very, very interesting. And I think that's the big question to you is like what exactly is going to happen next?"
SAN DIEGO — Meet Spike, the most avid gamer in a sea pen floating in the San Diego Bay. He likes fish, ice, naps, and when people cheer his name. He was last of three male sea lions to learn how to play video games, but first to complete training on a game system Navy scientists created as part of their latest research on cognitive enrichment for marine mammals.
His name isn't really Spike; you can think of it more like his gamertag. His ability to understand the concept of controlling a cursor on a screen, then progress through a series of more challenging games, marks the first recorded success in testing cognition of California sea lions with an animal-controlled interface.
On paper, it's a clear win for the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, under which scientists from Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific and the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) come together to care for the Navy's sea lions and dolphins. A proven method for cognitive enrichment opens doors for more research on keeping marine mammals happy and healthy longer.
On the deck of the sea pen, it's pure delight: Spike uses his snout to press a button and maneuver a cursor through a maze. His eyes track the cursor with laser-like focus. When he crosses the finish line, we cheer and his trainer rewards him with herring. The joy in the eye contact between him and his trainer as they celebrate a job well done — Spike with his side-to-side dance and victory yelps — is palpable and infectious. He turns back to the screen and positions himself to win the next game.
"That's why I'm doing this, you know?" said Kelley Winship, NMMF scientist and principal investigator for research using the Enclosure Video Enrichment (EVE) system. "I really care about these animals and the lives they lead. I love all the cool stuff we can look at with this research, but at the end of the day, I want to see them happy and enjoying themselves." Winship co-leads EVE research with Mark Xitco, NIWC Pacific's director for the Marine Mammal Program. Both hold Ph.Ds. in cognitive psychology.
Spike is clearly enjoying himself, just like you or I would when noticing our practice transform into mastery. For Spike and his fellow gamers, that joy has translated into three years of voluntary sessions, some without the positive reinforcement of food. Over that period, Spike showed improved weight maintenance and performance in voluntary health checks, though the research hasn't definitively linked the two to gaming just yet.
So far, research on sea lions' interaction with EVE centers a simple goal: Are they having fun? Do they want to keep playing it? More than 450 sessions among Spike and his two friends say yes. Now that other sea lions in the program have learned to play video games with EVE, that number has climbed to more than 750.
For the Navy, sea lions enjoying themselves means meeting standards laid out by the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, which calls on NIWC Pacific to deliver the highest quality of care for marine mammals. Since 1959, the Marine Mammal Program has been answering that call: dolphins and sea lions part of the program are healthy, happy, and live longer than those living in the wild thanks to world-class veterinary care.
Roughly 300 people care for the program's more than 120 sea lions and dolphins, all of which are trained in reconnaissance and recovery tasks marine mammals can perform better than humans. But enrichment activities such as open-ocean swims, playtime with toys, and now video games, remain central to their care programs.
"My favorite part of my job is how multifaceted it is," Winship said. "I find a lot of fulfillment working with animals trained to protect our Sailors and Marines, especially because these animals are so capable and they find their systems tasks so rewarding. And with EVE, I get to work on providing them with additional mental challenge and stimulation with a sole focus on their welfare."
Testing the first enrichment system of its kind for marine mammals took some ingenuity: they needed a device that could be portable, inexpensive to build, quickly assembled and disassembled between sessions, and manipulable by pinnipeds — semi-aquatic, fin-footed marine mammals. Previous research on cognitive enrichment in pinnipeds required large contraptions and proved only that they could identify stimuli on a screen, but fell short of proving they could control and interact with it.
That ingenuity took the form of a plastic utility cart outfitted with a 27-inch monitor and lockable wheels. An acrylic glass sheet protects the monitor from water and animal contact on the bottom of the cart; a computer rests in a case on top. An external speaker connects via Bluetooth. The game controller connects via USB and consists of a 6-inch by 6-inch electrical box fitted with four 2.4-inch plastic arcade buttons at compass orientations.
Getting started took some creativity, too. Before EVE, sea lions had been trained to ignore irrelevant stimuli and focus on trainers. First they needed to be taught that the screen contained relevant stimuli. Sea lions were directed to sit in front of the monitor while researchers controlled gameplay, and sea lions were rewarded when their eyes tracked movement on the screen.
It took a single session of hearing the "success" tone for gamers to respond like they do when their trainers say "good" after successful behavior. They progressed from exploring an unconnected game controller with their snouts, to watching their trainers point to the correct buttons, to pressing buttons themselves. They were first trained on a cursor tracking game, in which success was moving a blue dot across the screen to meet a black square. Later, more challenging iterations provided the variability needed to prevent habituation, key for enrichment programs over the long term.
Over time, Spike and his friends could switch directions when the cursor bumped up against a wall, complete levels at an average clip of six seconds, and win in fewer than seven button presses.
An automatic feeder comprised of a USB controller, 8-foot tube, and water tank could reward sea lions for successful gameplay, but was mostly used in earlier trials. Researchers found a slight preference by sea lions for sessions in which trainers functioned as feeders and cheerleaders over sessions using the automatic feeder. Because the automatic feeder requires regular cleaning, assembly, and disassembly, it proved less labor intensive for trainers to act as feeders for short sessions. Plus, it's just more fun that way.
"It took so many people at the Marine Mammal Program to implement the EVE system, from building the carts to training the animals to interact with the games," Winship said. "Our success relied on that collaborative effort, and I'm thankful to work with such bright and dedicated people."
What's next, now that the team has proven that pinnipeds can operate a complex interface? "The research possibilities with this are endless," Winship said, including the possibility of interspecies and multiplayer games. "We built a game where we can compete against Spike — he can chase us around and we can move away. He hasn't seen it yet. He's going to be really excited."
And in case you were worried about the program's dolphins feeling left out, they've been gaming on their own EVE system rigged for the gamer who never leaves the water. Gaming dolphins need a large screen visible from the water, and sunlight interferes with visibility of a projector set up on the pier, which means gaming sessions happen after sunset. What looks like an eerie pierside movie night has a way cooler explanation: it's just bottlenose dolphins controlling joysticks with their mouths to play video games late into the night. (It could also be a TV night — the dolphins like watching "SpongeBob Squarepants.")
Like us, sea lions and dolphins exhibit intense focus when facing increasingly difficult tasks which lie at the edge of their abilities: challenging and engaging enough, but not impossible. They show delight when they win; they want to play even when they aren't getting positive reinforcement for winning. They get tired and quit to take a nap, some days more quickly than others. One way they differ from humans, noted Winship, is the absence of frustration. "You don't really get a sea lion scoffing and throwing the controller down," she said. Sessions last only as long as gamers are interested.
When they are, it is a marvel to watch. On the deck of a sea pen in the San Diego Bay, off the coast of Point Loma, Spike gets a fish, does his victory dance, and we all cheer his name. A sea lion navigates a cursor through a maze in five seconds flat, six humans clap, and the small notebook in my pocket is empty, because capturing the depth of the moment with words seems unthinkable.
If one had to try, the words might look like this: they are so much like us, they are more patient gamers than us, and they are smarter than I realized before watching them play video games. Xitco, however, isn't surprised: "I knew they were smart enough to use EVE. But it took Kelley to figure out how to make it happen."
Then there's the gravity of the potential ripple effects: studying the outcomes of sharing this human experience with them could be huge for their health and longevity. We already know it makes them happy.
"The EVE system itself is proof of how much we care about marine mammals," Winship said. "We built them something that nobody else did. We trained them on it, and now we just get to enjoy watching them love video games."
A Los Angeles police dog is being hailed a hero after he located a massive cache of narcotics and an assault rifle that was hidden inside a vending machine.
The drug bust happened in Los Angeles as part of a Ventura County Sheriff's Office investigation.
Sheriff's deputies were in L.A. to serve a search warrant at an undisclosed location and requested a K-9 unit from the Los Angeles Police Department.
LAPD K9 Bosco responded to the scene to assist in the investigation, at which point he sniffed out the drugs which were hidden in a nondescript soda vending machine.
Inside the machine, authorities found 15 pounds of heroin, a kilogram of fentanyl and an assault rifle. A kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill more than 500,000 people, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Bosco is a 2-year-old Dutch shepherd that specializes in narcotics. According to LAPD, Bosco has been on the job for only six months. We will watch his career with great interest.
For the first time, U.S. regulators on Wednesday approved the sale of chicken made from animal cells, allowing two California companies to offer "lab-grown" meat to the nation's restaurant tables and eventually, supermarket shelves.
The Agriculture Department gave the green light to Upside Foods and Good Meat, firms that had been racing to be the first in the U.S. to sell meat that doesn't come from slaughtered animals — what's now being referred to as "cell-cultivated" or "cultured" meat as it emerges from the laboratory and arrives on dinner plates.
The move launches a new era of meat production aimed at eliminating harm to animals and drastically reducing the environmental impacts of grazing, growing feed for animals and animal waste.
"Instead of all of that land and all of that water that's used to feed all of these animals that are slaughtered, we can do it in a different way," said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Eat Just, which operates Good Meat.
The companies received approvals for federal inspections required to sell meat and poultry in the U.S. The action came months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed that products from both companies are safe to eat. A manufacturing company called Joinn Biologics, which works with Good Meat, was also cleared to make the products.
Cultivated meat is grown in steel tanks, using cells that come from a living animal, a fertilized egg or a special bank of stored cells. In Upside's case, it comes out in large sheets that are then formed into shapes like chicken cutlets and sausages. Good Meat, which already sells cultivated meat in Singapore, the first country to allow it, turns masses of chicken cells into cutlets, nuggets, shredded meat and satays.
But don't look for this novel meat in U.S. grocery stores anytime soon. Cultivated chicken is much more expensive than meat from whole, farmed birds and cannot yet be produced on the scale of traditional meat, said Ricardo San Martin, director of the Alt:Meat Lab at University of California Berkeley.
The companies plan to serve the new food first in exclusive restaurants: Upside has partnered with a San Francisco restaurant called Bar Crenn, while Good Meat dishes will be served at a Washington, D.C., restaurant run by chef and owner Jose Andrés.
Company officials are quick to note the products are meat, not substitutes like the Impossible Burger or offerings from Beyond Meat, which are made from plant proteins and other ingredients.
Globally, more than 150 companies are focusing on meat from cells, not only chicken but pork, lamb, fish and beef, which scientists say has the biggest impact on the environment.
Upside, based in Berkeley, operates a 70,000-square-foot building in nearby Emeryville. On a recent Tuesday, visitors entered a gleaming commercial kitchen where chef Jess Weaver was sauteeing a cultivated chicken filet in a white wine butter sauce with tomatoes, capers and green onions.
The finished chicken breast product was slightly paler than the grocery store version. Otherwise it looked, cooked, smelled and tasted like any other pan-fried poultry.
"The most common response we get is, 'Oh, it tastes like chicken,'" said Amy Chen, Upside's chief operating officer.
Good Meat, based in Alameda, operates a 100,000-square-foot plant, where chef Zach Tyndall dished up a smoked chicken salad on a sunny June afternoon. He followed it with a chicken "thigh" served on a bed of potato puree with a mushroom-vegetable demi-glace and tiny purple cauliflower florets. The Good Meat chicken product will come pre-cooked, requiring only heating to use in a range of dishes.
Chen acknowledged that many consumers are skeptical, even squeamish, about the thought of eating chicken grown from cells.
"We call it the 'ick factor,'" she said.
The sentiment was echoed in a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Half of U.S. adults said that they are unlikely to try meat grown using cells from animals. When asked to choose from a list of reasons for their reluctance, most who said they'd be unlikely to try it said "it just sounds weird." About half said they don't think it would be safe.
But once people understand how the meat is made, they're more accepting, Chen said. And once they taste it, they're usually sold.
"It is the meat that you've always known and loved," she said.
Cultivated meat begins with cells. Upside experts take cells from live animals, choosing those most likely to taste good and to reproduce quickly and consistently, forming high-quality meat, Chen said. Good Meat products are created from a master cell bank formed from a commercially available chicken cell line.
Once the cell lines are selected, they're combined with a broth-like mixture that includes the amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, salts, vitamins and other elements cells need to grow. Inside the tanks, called cultivators, the cells grow, proliferating quickly. At Upside, muscle and connective tissue cells grow together, forming large sheets. After about three weeks, the sheets of poultry cells are removed from the tanks and formed into cutlets, sausages or other foods. Good Meat cells grow into large masses, which are shaped into a range of meat products.
Both firms emphasized that initial production will be limited. The Emeryville facility can produce up to 50,000 pounds of cultivated meat products a year, though the goal is to expand to 400,000 pounds per year, Upside officials said. Good Meat officials wouldn't estimate a production goal.
By comparison, the U.S. produces about 50 billion pounds of chicken per year.
It could take a few years before consumers see the products in more restaurants and seven to 10 years before they hit the wider market, said Sebastian Bohn, who specializes in cell-based foods at CRB, a Missouri firm that designs and builds facilities for pharmaceutical, biotech and food companies.
Cost will be another sticking point. Neither Upside nor Good Meat officials would reveal the price of a single chicken cutlet, saying only that it's been reduced by orders of magnitude since the firms began offering demonstrations. Eventually, the price is expected to mirror high-end organic chicken, which sells for up to $20 per pound.
San Martin said he's concerned that cultivated meat may wind up being an alternative to traditional meat for rich people, but will do little for the environment if it remains a niche product.
"If some high-end or affluent people want to eat this instead of a chicken, it's good," he said. "Will that mean you will feed chicken to poor people? I honestly don't see it."
Tetrick said he shares critics' concerns about the challenges of producing an affordable, novel meat product for the world. But he emphasized that traditional meat production is so damaging to the planet it requires an alternative — preferably one that doesn't require giving up meat all together.
"I miss meat," said Tetrick, who grew up in Alabama eating chicken wings and barbecue. "There should be a different way that people can enjoy chicken and beef and pork with their families."
ATLANTA (AP) — The owner of an auto repair shop who paid a former employee with 91,500 oily pennies has been ordered by a judge to pay nearly 4 million more cents.
A federal judge ruled that Miles Walker, who owns A OK Walker Autoworks in Peachtree City, Georgia, owes $39,934 to nine workers for unpaid overtime and damages.
Attorneys for Walker agreed to the payments to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the U.S. Labor Department that accused Walker of retaliating against former employee Andreas Flaten in 2021.
After Flaten filed a complaint with the agency saying Walker owed him a final $915 paycheck, the employer dumped that amount in oil-covered pennies in Flaten's driveway. The mountain of loose change came with a pay stub signed with an expletive.
The Labor Department said further investigation found that Walker's business had also violated overtime provisions of the federal Fair Standards and Labor Act.
The judge on June 16 signed a consent order in which Walker agreed to pay nearly $8,700 more to Flaten in owed overtime and damages. Eight other workers are to receive amounts between $14,640 and $513 within the next year.
"The court has sent a clear message to employers such as Miles Walker who subject employees to unfair wage practices and outright intimidation and retaliation," Tremelle Howard, the Labor Department's regional solicitor in Atlanta, said in a statement.
Walker's attorney, Ryan Farmer, said the conflict with Flaten doesn't reflect his client's "true character as a businessman."
"Mr. Walker is like many other small business owners in America — he wakes up every day doing everything he can to put food on the table," Farmer said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "Unfortunately, emotionally charged decisions can come back and bite you in the rear end."