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orca
Photo by Mike Doherty on Unsplash

Some teen orcas are causing headaches for boaters off the coast of Europe.

Orcas are among the smartest animals in the world and their combo of intelligence and social behavior can make for some interesting surprises.

Adolescent orcas have been causing headaches for boaters off the coasts of Europe with some seemingly aggressive behavior toward boat rudders, repeatedly ramming into and biting them, causing major damage. Most of these rudder encounters, which have reportedly been happening for just over two years, have taken place near Portugal and Spain.

However, as NPR reports, the same kind of boat attack recently took place off the coast of France. Ester Kristine Storkson shared that she was violently awakened on her father's 37-foot sailboat by several orcas ramming into the vessel. "They [hit] us repeatedly ... giving us the impression that it was a coordinated attack," she told NPR. After about 15 minutes, they swam away, leaving the boat's rudder destroyed.


The location of this particular encounter has surprised orca experts, as it's nowhere near where the other rudder incidents have occurred. Renaud de Stephanis, president and coordinator at cetacean research group CIRCE Conservación Information and Research, told NPR that the Spain and Portugal encounters are thought to have been from a small group of adolescent male orcas from the same pod, but the coast of France isn't in their home range.

"I really don't understand what happened there," he said. "It's too far away. I mean, I don't think that [the orcas] would go up there for a couple of days and then come back."

The reason for the rudder destruction is unknown, but scientists have a few theories. One is that the young orcas like the way the water feels when a boat's propeller is on and ramming the rudder is a way of saying, "Hey, turn it on, man!" It could just be curiosity about the moving parts of a boat or frustration with the propellers not moving. It's also possible that it's simply a fun game for them, according to de Stephanis. "When they ... have their own adult life, it will probably stop," he told NPR.

In other words, typical teenage hooliganism.

According to Live Science, orca societies actually have fads that come and go and this rudder-ramming behavior might be one. A 2004 paper published in Biological Conservation described how one female orca in the Puget Sound off of Washington state had started a trend of wearing dead salmon like a hat. Others followed her lead and the "fashion" trend even spread to two other pods. The "dead-salmon-wearing" fad lasted about six weeks. A few orcas apparently tried to bring it back the following summer, but it didn't catch on again.

Jared Towers, the director of Bay Cetology in British Columbia, studies a population of orcas in the Pacific and says "games" like the rudder ramming come and go in orca societies. We have juvenile males who ... often interact with prawn and crab traps," he says. "That's just been a fad for a few years."

While we wait for the rudder ramming fad to fade, it's good to remember that orcas are not aggressive towards humans. There is no recorded death from an orca attack in the wild, and very few reports of any kind of attacks on humans at all. Though these boat encounters are certainly frightening and potentially dangerous—at least one boat has sunk from the rudder destruction—they do not appear to be aggressive attacks directed at people.

Maybe there's a deeper message we can't understand in these shenanigans? Or maybe these youngsters just need an after-school program to productively channel their youthful energy.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

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More and more people of all ages are letting their inner kids out to play, and the feelings are delightfully infectious.

You might be wanting to instill a little more childlike wonder into your own life, and not sure where to start. Never fear, the internet is here. Reddit user SetsunaSaigami asked people, “What always remains fun no matter how old you get?” People’s (surprisingly profound) answers were great reminders that no matter how complex our lives become, simple joy will always be important.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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