World’s largest whales are mostly ‘right-handed’, study finds

In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, rescuers attempt to push stranded whales back into the ocean at Ujong Kareng beach in Aceh province, Indonesia. An official said whales were stranded at the beach and attracted hundreds of onlookers who posed for pictures with them. (AP Photo/Syahrol Rizal, File)
Updated 20 November 2017

World’s largest whales are mostly ‘right-handed’, study finds

MIAMI, USA: Blue whales, the world’s largest animals, usually favor their right side when they lunge to catch food — a preference similar to right-handedness in people, researchers said Monday.
But on certain occasions while moving upward in shallow water, these righties will almost always shift to their left to keep a good eye on their favored prey — tiny crustaceans known as krill.
The reason for this situation-specific choice is likely simple: to get as much food in their mouths as possible, said the report published in Current Biology.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first example where animals show different lateralized behaviors depending on the context of the task that is being performed,” said co-author James Herbert-Read of Stockholm University in Sweden.
The report was based on analysis of the movement of 63 blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) off the coast of California.
These giant creatures are almost as long as three school buses and weigh as much as 25 elephants.
Scientists analyzed more than 2,800 feeding plunges, in which whales make sharp turns or rolls when passing a patch of krill, in order to eat as many as possible.
Most blue whales veer right in deep water, where it is dark and there are a lot of krill, so visual contact is not as important.
But when the water is between 10 and 100 feet (three to 30 meters), most prefer to roll left at a steep angle.
Researchers think this happens because prey tend to be less plentiful at shallow depth, and moving left allows whales to keep their right eye on their target.
“These are the largest animals on the planet and feeding is an extraordinarily costly behavior that takes time, so being able to maximize the benefit of each feeding opportunity is critical,” said lead author Ari Friedlaender, a cetacean expert with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.
“And we believe this left-sided rotation is a mechanism to help achieve that,” he added.
“If the whales turned to the right on approach, they would lose sight of their prey and decrease the ability to forage successfully. By rolling to the left, the whales may be maintaining this visual connection to their prey.”
Researchers say that lefties are unusual in the animal kingdom.
Scientists hope to study more whales to see if other species also exhibit a preference for left turns in some contexts.
“We were completely surprised by these findings, but when considering the means by which the whales attack smaller prey patches, the behavior really seems to be effective, efficient, and in line with the mechanisms that drive their routine foraging behaviors,” Friedlaender said.


Are robots ever going to replace doctors? Experts say ‘no’

Updated 23 January 2020

Are robots ever going to replace doctors? Experts say ‘no’

  • The panel addressed the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in the medical field

DUBAI: The growing use of technology in the healthcare industry will continue to expand but should not take over from the primary care provided  by doctors and nurses, a panel of health experts said in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on Thursday.

The panel addressed the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in the medical field, agreeing that all care should remain focused on the needs of the patient, adding that “robots can’t replace doctors.”

But Leif Johansson, chairman of the board at pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca AB, said the technology would be especially essential to “screening programs and extending access to care.”

“The only way to support primary care centers with low-skilled people, for screening purposes, will be with AI, robotics,” he explained, citing India as an example of a country with a shortage of qualified doctors who can address the needs of a massive population.

While technology presents potential benefits to the industry, Lisa Sanders, Associate Professor at the Yale Medical School, said she was concerned current technology faced a “barrier in data input.”

“How is AI or the robot going to get the data they need from patients?” Sanders, the doctor who was the inspiration behind the hit US TV show “House,” said, questioning how technology “would be able to assess patients when they’re complex and confused.”

Jodi Halpern, a professor of bioethics, shared the same sentiment, and highlighted what she described as three important situations when “a relationship with an actual human doctor makes a difference for effective healthcare.”

One was taking medical history from patients, Halpern said, explaining most patients would only disclose personal information when there’s empathy from doctors.

“If we don't get a good history, we won't get a good treatment," she added.

Another was ensuring patients take medication, and lastly was helping people deal with bad news.

Sanders, a physician herself, said “it’s not the thinking” that doctors need help from technology for, but "other things like dealing with poorly conceived systems of medical records."