Science  09 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6108, pp. 727

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  1. Rare Whales Spotted in New Zealand

    Mistaken identity.

    Spade-toothed beaked whales resemble this Gray's beaked whale.


    Two whales stranded on a New Zealand beach in 2010 have turned out to be the first documented live specimens of a whale species previously known from only a few skeletal fragments. The 5.3-meter-long female and 3.5-meter-long juvenile male were initially mistaken for Gray's beaked whales. But a genetic analysis of tissue samples taken after the whales died determined they were spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii).

    “It was very exciting. These animals are only known from three skull fragments; we didn't know if the species was still extant,” says Rochelle Constantine, a marine mammal biologist at University of Auckland in New Zealand. Once Constantine and her colleagues identified the species, they exhumed the carcasses for morphological analysis and reported their results on 6 November in Current Biology.

    Beaked whales are among the most rarely sighted and least understood. They inhabit deep waters in the South Pacific, feeding on squid and small fish and spending limited time at the surface.

    “Once again we have evidence that our understanding of the biota of the deep oceans is still only (literally) scratching the surface,” says marine mammal researcher Robert Harcourt of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

  2. Infinitely Fast Light—Sort Of

    Within a tiny device, visible light can, by one measure, travel infinitely fast, a team of researchers report. In a material such as glass, light travels slower than in empty space. The ratio of the speed of light in the vacuum to that of in the material defines the material's “index of refraction,” which is usually greater than one. Not so inside the nanometer-scale “wave guide” that Albert Polman, a physicist at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam; Nader Engheta, an electrical engineer at the University of Pennsylvania; and colleagues fashioned out of silicon dioxide and silver. In the guide, described in a paper in press at Physical Review Letters, light waves of one frequency zip along infinitely fast, giving the device an index of refraction of zero—a first for visible light. The gizmo doesn't violate relativity, Engheta says, because energy still flows down the channel slower than the usual speed of light.

    “The demonstration of such a thing is definitely very interesting and possibly useful,” says Wenshan Cai, an electrical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. For example, such a device might serve as a collector of light in optical experiments, Cai says.