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Science Notes: Find changes thinking on feathered dinosaurs; shipping lanes imperil Pacific blue whales

Find changes thinking on feathered dinosaurs

A new dinosaur species, one with feathers, has been discovered in Russia. The finding could mean that feathers were more widespread among dinosaurs than previously thought, researchers say.

The dinosaur, described in the journal Science, was about 5 feet long and belonged to a group of herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs known as ornithischia.

The first feathered dinosaur was discovered in China in 1996. A number of others have been found since then, but those specimens were all theropods, the suborder that includes Tyrannosaurus rex.

“For the first time, we have found a dinosaur outside of the theropod lineage,” said the new study’s first author, Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

Theropods and ornithischians split about 220 million years ago, he said, adding: “This means that feathers probably existed in the common ancestors of both lineages. And all the descendants of this common ancestor potentially could have feathers as well.”

But proving it would be a challenge. Feathers are not often fossilized, and paleontologists rarely find traces of them.

Godefroit said he hoped other feathers might be found near the newly discovered dinosaur. His finding was based on six partial skeletons and hundreds of bones in two neighboring locations. If other species of dinosaurs were covered with feathers, then museum models, often depicted with leathery, scaly skin, may need to be changed.

Shipping lanes imperil blue whales in Pacific

Two major feeding grounds for Pacific blue whales are bisected by busy shipping lanes near major seaports in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, Calif., a new study reports. “It’s an unhappy coincidence,” said Ladd Irvine, a marine biologist at Oregon State University who led the study, published in the journal PLOS One. “The whales are purely there because they need to find the densest food aggregations possible.”

Large ships could easily injure or kill whales that are looking for food, he said. And blue whales, an endangered species, have few feeding options. Although they are enormous, they rely almost entirely on krill, a tiny shrimplike creature.

The research is based on analysis of 15 years of data gathered from 171 satellite-tagged blue whales.

There are a few changes that could help protect the whales, Irvine said. Because the whales are in the area only in the summer and the fall, shipping lanes could be temporarily moved, or speed limits could make it easier for ships to move out of the way when whales are nearby.

– New York Times