The Mystery of Alaska’s Disappearing Whales

This story originally appeared in Undark and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

When Roswell Schaeffer Sr. was 8 years old, his father decided it was about time he started learning to hunt beluga whales. Schaeffer was an Iñupiaq kid growing up in Kotzebue, a small city in northwest Alaska, where a healthy store of beluga meat was part of making it through the winter. Each summer, thousands of these small white whales migrated to Kotzebue Sound, and hunts were an annual tradition. Whale skin and blubber, or muktuk, was prized, not only as a form of sustenance and a trading commodity, but also because of the spiritual value of sharing the catch with the community.

Now, nearly seven decades later, Schaeffer is one of only a few hunters who still spend the late weeks of spring, just after the ice has melted, on Kotzebue Sound, waiting for belugas

Amazon’s Creep Into Health Care Has Some Experts Spooked

Smith told WIRED that Amazon keeps patient health information confidential and secure in compliance with federal law and regulations, and in line with industry standards; Amazon Clinic customer data will be protected through the use of HIPAA-compliant encryption methods. “Protecting patient information is an important part of our business; we are not in the business of selling or sharing it,” Smith wrote.

Amazon’s recent efforts to break into health care raise a more fundamental question: Should Big Tech even be allowed in the sector? The motivations of a private company—efficiency, optimization, and above all, profit—don’t exactly square with serving the public good, says Tamar Sharon, a professor at Radboud University in the Netherlands whose work explores the politics and ethics of Big Tech in health and medicine—or as she dubs it, the “Googlization of health.” 

Amazon Care, a telehealth service Amazon piloted among its employees and then rolled out to

Why China Is Still Stuck in a Zero-Covid Nightmare

Scott Kennedy, senior adviser with the Washington, DC, think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, visited China in October. “When I was there, it seemed clear to me that, privately, officials understood they needed to exit zero-Covid, and that plans were in the works to do so that would be implemented after the 20th Party Congress,” he says. That took place later that month and cemented President Xi Jinping’s third term.

In fact, China did relax some zero-Covid rules in early November, including softening quarantine restrictions for overseas travelers. But when cases rose, officials brought lockdowns back. 

China faces a few specific problems that would exacerbate the spread of the virus if it entirely lifts the policy. The nation is an outlier in that its elderly population, one of the groups most at risk, is somewhat hesitant to get jabbed. Kennedy says the low uptake may be partly due

Scientists Reexamine Why Zebra Stripes Mysteriously Repel Flies

For the current study, Tombak, then a PhD candidate at Princeton, and her team wanted to test stripe width to see if narrower ones might be even more repulsive to flies—a potential evolutionary advantage that would explain the difference between zebra species. They also restricted their experiment to close-range encounters to rule out the theory that the repulsion required an illusion that could only happen at a distance. Hence the plexiglass box.

An undergraduate from the lab, Lily Reisinger, built the box and set up the experiment. For each trial, the team hung two pelts with clothespins, unleashed the flies, let them circle for a minute, and then counted how many landed on each pelt. First, they tested an impala pelt vs. one from a plains zebra, which has wide stripes. Then the impala vs. a Grevy’s zebra, which has narrower stripes. Finally, they pitted the skins from the two

The Geological Fluke That’s Protecting Sea Life in the Galapagos

This story originally appeared in Hakai Magazine and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Pushed by climate change, almost every part of the ocean is heating up. But off the west coast of the Galapagos Islands, there is a patch of cold, nutrient-rich water. This prosperous patch feeds phytoplankton and breathes life into the archipelago.

“The cool water sustains populations of penguins, marine iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, and cetaceans that would not be able to stay on the equator year round,” says Judith Denkinger, a marine ecologist at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador.

Over the past four decades, this cold patch has cooled by roughly half a degree. Its persistence has scientists wondering how long it will hold. The Galapagos Islands are already famed for their biodiversity. Could it be that the water offshore will become a refuge for marine animals seeking cold water in