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Changes in ocean conditions could be the cause of a steep decline in European eels, biologists report. The number of eels reaching Europe has fallen by as much as 90 percent since 1970, according to a new study that correlated eel catches at a site in the Netherlands since 1938 with climatic conditions in the Sargasso Sea, where the eels spawn.
Changes in ocean conditions could be the cause of a steep decline in European eels, biologists report. The number of eels reaching Europe has fallen by as much as 90 percent since 1970, according to a new study that correlated eel catches at a site in the Netherlands since 1938 with climatic conditions in the Sargasso Sea, where the eels spawn. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Unset in Their Ways

As the Democratic presidential primary race moves to Pennsylvania and Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton try to woo that state's large elderly population, the campaigns and their followers might want to take note of some recent sociological research that turns conventional wisdom about elderly people's attitudes on its head.

While traditional stereotypes suggest elderly people are set in their ways and more likely to hold racist and sexist attitudes, research suggests that elderly Americans are more likely to be influenced by the norms of younger people than by the norms of their forebears.

Older people are actually more likely than younger adults to update their attitudes about blacks and women, as well as about privacy issues and civil liberties, in light of prevailing norms, according to research by sociologists Nicholas L. Danigelis and Stephen J. Cutler at the University of Vermont and Melissa A. Hardy at Pennsylvania State University.

Not only are older adults more likely than younger adults to change their attitudes, these changes are more likely to lean in the direction of greater openness and tolerance, the scientists reported in the American Sociological Review last year. The sociologists studied 30 years of survey data that included 46,510 people.

"It proves that some of the commonly held beliefs about older people being rigid and unwilling to change aren't true," Danigelis said in a statement. "Getting older makes you more conservative, but only if you're a younger person."

-- Shankar Vedantam

Declining Eel Numbers

Climate changes may be altering ocean conditions in ways that are decimating eel populations.

Kevin Friedland, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with colleagues at the University of Tokyo and the University of Westminster, in Britain, found a significant correlation between the decadal circulation pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation and the long-term catches of eels in their juvenile stage, when they are called glass eels.

The three researchers surveyed annual catch data for glass eels since 1938 at Den Oever in the Netherlands and found that with the exception of the World War II years -- when no one collected data -- the catches mirrored changes in ocean conditions.

Both European and American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, in an area between the Bahamas and Bermuda. The transparent leaflike larvae, known as leptocephali, stay in surface waters for up to a year and drift toward the Gulf Stream, which transports the European eels to coastal waters there. The stream, along with the Antilles Current and other circulation patterns, directs American eel larvae toward the U.S. East Coast.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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