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A Loh Down is a capsule of intriguing scientific research presented clearly, in a witty way, because we believe humor makes knowledge sticky. There is no limit to the science we can present—whether it be in astronomy, biology, computers, evolution, global warming, psychology, politics, sports or beyond—as long as we can make the gist of it graspable in 90 seconds. Our audiences are experts and novices, old and young. Explore the site to customize your journey in your area(s) of interest!

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Whale Snot

09.22.09

There she blows! Duck! This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science. Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, from the Zoological Society of London, is interested in whale diseases. As with humans, researchers usually study animal health by collecting blood samples. It's a pain when your subjects are needle-phobic humans. But it's downright impossible with a blue or gray whale! There isn't a needle big enough! But relying on dead, stranded, or captive whales for blood samples doesn't accurately represent the health of animals in the wild. So Acevedo-Whitehouse's solution? Snot. That's right. When whales rise to the surface, they blast water, gases, and mucous through their blowholes. The mixture can be analyzed for bacteria and viruses inhabiting the whales' respiratory tracts. Acevedo-Whitehouse's method for collecting the slimy samples? Equally inventive. She attached sterile Petri dishes to a three-and-a-half foot remote-controlled toy helicopter, operated from the deck of a ship. When a whale is spotted at the surface, looking like it's gonna blow, the 'copter is zoomed into range. Whale sneezes, snot flies onto the Petri dishes. All that's left is finding a large enough tissue! Gezundheidt!

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