Apes have mid-life crises


Too bad chimpanzees can’t buy sports cars. New research says it’s not just humans who go through midlife crises: Chimps and orangutans also experience a dip in happiness around the middle of their lives.

“There may be different things going on at the surface, but underneath it all, there’s something common in all three species that’s leading to this,” said study leader Alexander Weiss, a primate psychologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The study team asked longtime caretakers of more than 500 chimpanzees and orangutans at zoos in five countries to fill out a questionnaire about the well-being of each animal they work with, including overall mood, how much the animals seemed to enjoy social interactions, and how successful they were in achieving goals (such as obtaining a desired item or spot within their enclosure).

The survey even asked the humans to imagine themselves as the animal and rate how happy they’d be.

When Weiss’s team plotted the results on a graph, they saw a familiar curve, bottoming out in the middle of the animals’ lives and rising again in old age. It’s the same U-shape that has shown up in several studies about age and happiness in people.

“When you look at worldwide data, you see this U-shape,” said National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.

“It’s different for every country, but it’s usually somewhere between age 45 and 55 that you hit the bottom of the curve, and it continues to go up with age. You see centenarians in good health reporting higher well-being than teenagers.”

(Take Buettner’s True Happiness Test.)

Social and economic hypotheses may partly explain this happiness curve in human lifetimes: Maybe it’s tied to adjusting expectations, abandoning regret, or just getting more stuff as we grow older. But Weiss suspects there may be something more primal going on.

“We’re saying, take a step back and look at the big picture: Is there any evidence that there’s an evolutionary basis underlying this?” said Weiss, whose study was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Knowing that a similar phenomenon exists in human and nonhuman primates opens up the realm of possible explanations.”

Although the stereotype of a midlife crisis is generally negative—feelings of depression or discontentment with one’s life and where it’s headed—Weiss believes such ennui may have an evolutionary upside.

By the middle of one’s life, humans and apes often have access to more resources than when they were younger, which could make it easier to achieve goals. Feelings of discontentment may be nature’s way of motivating us to “strike while the iron is hot,” said Weiss.

“It may feel lousy, but your brain could be tricking you into improving your circumstances and situation, signaling you to get up and really start pushing while you’re absolutely at your prime,” he said. “And I think that’s a really powerful and positive message.”

Knowing that a midlife dip in happiness is a natural—and temporary—part of life could make it easier for humans to cope with the experience, Weiss said. It could also help caretakers improve captive apes’ quality of life, by identifying ages at which the animals might benefit from extra attention or enrichment.

(See pictures of places where people are happiest.)

“I don’t think this totally subsumes other explanations for age-related changes in happiness, but it adds another layer,” Weiss said.

Weiss has previously studied the correlation between personality and happiness in both chimpanzees and humans, and plans to look next at the impact of factors like sex and social groupings.

“I hope this raises awareness of all that we can learn by looking at our closest living animal relatives.”


Scientists to sink a dead whale to study zombie worms that eat their bones

Scientists are planning to conduct what would be the first study in UK deep waters of creatures known as “zombie worms” that eat bones of dead whales.

The research would involve sinking a whale carcass, potentially at a location off the coast of Scotland.

Similar work has been done in Sweden, Japan and off California in the US.

Dr Nick Higgs, a researcher at the Natural History Museum, and Dr Kim Last, of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, hope to do the study.

The worms from the Osedax genus were only discovered in 2004.

New discoveries of the creatures are still being made. Scientists are also trying to better understand how the worms find dead whales.

The worms do not have a mouth or gut and use root-like tissue to bore into and eat bones.

Large marine mammals that die and sink to sea floors in deep water become a food source for various forms of wildlife.

Called whale-fall, the layers of blubber, internal organs and bones can provide sustenance for many years.

Studies of what happens to dead whales, dolphins and porpoises have been done in the UK, but only in shallow water where the worms have not yet been found.

Dr Higgs, a researcher in the deep sea who works from London, and Oban-based marine chronobiology investigator Dr Last, have hopes of carrying out the UK’s first deep water investigation.

It would involve sinking a whale that has died in a stranding.

Dr Higgs said it was possible this could be done off Scotland, and with cameras to monitor what happens to the animal.

Deliberately sinking a dead whale is done for scientific studies because it is so rare to find the carcasses at sea.

Dr Higgs said: “We have a good idea of how to do it. It’s pretty straight-forward really.

“You just have to make sure the carcass doesn’t bloat up too much and then attach a large amount of weight to the back of it and let it sink.”

The scientist said sinking stranded whales could be an alternative to cutting them up and incinerating the animals.

Scottish local authorities have spent between £10,000 and £50,000 dealing with dead sperm and pilot whales in this way.

Dr Higgs said: “From what I can gather, sinking would be in order of £10,000 to £15,000.

“I am not saying we should sink every whale that washes up on UK shores, but in some cases it could be cheaper than a disposal costing £50,000 and would also help science.”



16 whales dies in mass beaching in Scotland



Sixteen whales were killed and ten others saved in a mass beaching on Scotland’s east coast on Sunday, authorities said.

The 20-foot pilot whales became stranded in a small cove in the county of Fife – home to the famed Old Course at St. Andrew’s golf course — at around 7 a.m. local time, The Scotsman newspaper reported.

Volunteers, coast guardsmen, firefighters and local vets scrambled to rescue the poor beasts from the shallow North Sea waters.

“I went down to the beach at about 12 p.m. and I could see all the whales. It was horrible. I have never seen anything like it in my life,” David Galloway, a local fish cutter, told The Scotsman.

“We were told we couldn’t go down on to the beach, but we could see rescuers beside the whales, they were trying to take care of them, trying to keep them moist, he said.

“They were waiting for the tide to come in. It was just horrible.”

The rescue operation drew a large crowd to the windswept beach, prompting the coast guard to urge would-be volunteers to stay away.

The whales may have become stranded after the lead whale got sick or lost its way, officials told the newspaper.

Three of the whales that died were calves.

The ones that were saved were being monitored for 24 hours to make sure they didn’t wash ashore again, BBC reported.

“It is a very rare occurrence in Scotland and very sad,” a coast guard spokeswoman told The Scotsman.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/16-whales-die-mass-beaching-scotland-article-1.1150716#ixzz25o3LI3u2