Those Naughty Sea Otters

It's fun reading through science journals. Oh sure, some of the articles are incredibly arcane and you can't understand the titles. But once in a while you come across a really spiff paper, one that you know will interest, embarrass or horrify your roommate, significant other or that guy who talks to himself at the 7-11.
And isn't that what life is all about?
Here are a few to get us started. If you have any neat ones, on any topic in science, send us a reprint (Milton Love, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106) and, if it is particularly appealing or appalling, we'll pin it up on this wall.

And Now You Know the Rest of the Story
So, Danish commercial fishermen had a problem, which we will let C. Christophersen, U. Anthoni, P. H. Nielsen, N. Jacobsen and O. Tendal (Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 1989, Vol. 17, pp. 459-461) enunciate. "During commercial fishery in the area of Clever Bank in the North Sea the catch is often contaminated with a bottom-dwelling invertebrate. The popular name of this among Danish fishermen is 'abelort' which literally translates into'monkey [let's just say 'poo-poo', this is a family web site]'. The reason for this unusual although quite descriptive name is the nauseating stench exuding from the organism and infecting the entire air-space surrounding the catch. Furthermore, the crew comes into close contact with the source organisms, a process which is allegedly often accompanied by a pronounced nausea."

Whoa. So what causes this unpleasantness? Christophersen et al. determined that the source of this nastiness was Halichondria panicea, the bread-crumb sponge. But what was most interesting was that, while most H. panicea smell relatively spring-time fresh, a few individuals exude healthy quantities of compounds called sulfides or, as we say in Science, "stinky things". The researchers felt it was quite likely that these Rogue Sponges contained a microorganism, perhaps a bacterium, that was actually the miscreant.

Just Don't Kiss Flipper
In Marine Mammal Science (1991, vol. 7, pp.191-194), J. R. Geraci and S. H. Ridgway note that "Programs are emerging that invite a person to swim with, rub against, or be carried in tow by a dolphin..." They then ask (metaphorically-speaking) the musical question "Just what diseases can I catch from hanging out with marine mammals?" It turns out that cases of humans becoming infected from marine mammal contact are mostly limited to people who cut up dead animals (like whalers and veterinarians) or others in contact with dead or dying mammals. Geraci and Ridgway conclude that there is relatively little hazard from interacting with live, healthy dolphins and whales, though some risk of microorganism transfer does exist.

Greater Love Hath No Man
What guys won't do to fill their biological needs. M. C. B. Andrade (Science, 1996, vol. 271, pp. 70-72) discusses the nightmarish Hobson's choice facing male Australian redback spiders. Redbacks are interesting because, in about 65% of the time, females eat males during mating. Even more fascinating, during copulation males always place themselves in a position to be eaten by somersaulting themselves so that their abdomens are directly over the mouths of the females.
Why would males intentionally place themselves in this very sensitive position? Andrade discovered that "Cannibalized males copulated longer and fertilized more eggs than those that survived copulation" and "Females were more likely to reject subsequent suitors after consuming their first mate."
There is enough material here for about 25 one-liners, but we will just say that this is one of those Natural Selection things.

And You Thought All Was Lost
It's okay, you can be honest with us. We know your inner-most fear, the one that afflicts you only in the still of the night.
And, of course, you're right. For what could be more horrifying than worms burrowing into your skin and finding their cuticle-laced way to your....
But be of good cheer, for G. A. Schad and R. M. Anderson (Science, 1985, vol. 228, pp. 1537-1540) bring us a bouquet of hope. These worthies gave anti-worm medication to 112 hookworm-infected villagers in West Bengal, then studied how quickly and how intensely these folks became reinfected. They found that some villagers were far more susceptible to worms than others. While a portion of the differences might be behavioral, some of it may be genetic - some people may have a greater resistance to the worms.
So, with any kind of luck, the DNA cards Nature has dealt you equal a full house, and you won't have to cash out. And we will be able to drop these wretched poker metaphors.

There Has To Be a Moral Here Somewhere
In Fish Parasites and Human Health (J. A. Sakanari, M. Moser and T. L. Deardorff, 1995, California Sea Grant College), we find this cautionary tale. Discussing unusual ways humans have contracted parasites from seafood, Sakanari et al. report "There have also been reports of cases which resulted from handling infected seafood. In one, involving the fluke Nanophyetus salmincola [a type of parasite flatworm], human transmission occurred during the handling of freshly kill coho salmon. It is likely that the patient ingested the larval parasite when he simultaneously cleaned fish and smoked cigarettes..."

But Is It Legal In Mississippi?
Sperm-drinking catfish. There, we have said it and we're glad. Those wild and crazy animal biologists, M. Kohda, M. Tanimura, M. Kidue-Nakamura and S. Yamagishi have truly burned the midnight oil on this one. Reporting in Environmental Biology of Fishes (1995, vol. 42, pp 1- 6), these zanies discuss the reproductive habits of the South American catfish Corydoras aeneus, a popular aquarium species.
They found that, during courtship, male Corydoras will present their abdomens to females. A female then attaches her mouth to the male's... well, let's just she gloms on "where the sun don't shine." At the time of attachment, the female swallows water and the male emits sperm. While all this is going on up front, the female cups her ventral fins into a pouch and lays a batch of eggs. Meanwhile, back in the intestine, the sperm and water are hurtling along and are soon emitted out the back end, onto the eggs. Ain't Nature grand?

No Punch Line, But It Is Intriguing
Here's the abstract from A study of antitumoral activity of liver oil emulsion of Rhincodon typus [the whale shark], by H. Zhang et al. (Journal of Marine Drugs Haiyang Yaowu, 1988, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 3-5): "When the liver oil emulsion of Rhincodon typus (50%) was administered to mice with transplanted solid tumor (S sub (180)), it showed very strong activity against the tumor."