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Bizarro Earth

7.1 Earthquake Occurs Between Fiji's Main Islands

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© Fiji Times
Location of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake which occurred at 10.45pm last night (Monday) in the waters between Fiji's two major islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake occurred in the Fiji region at 10.45pm last night (Monday), but the quake was so deep that residents of the islands slept through it. No tsunami alert or other security action was taken in the islands.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued two Tsunami Bulletins, advising that "based on the depth of the eathquake" a tsunami was not generated.

It said an earthquake occurred at 10.45pm November 9, at 17.2 South 178.6 East at a depth of 565 kilometers.

That location is virtually in the centre of waters between Fiji's two most populated islands - Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The closest towns to the quake zone were Tavua and Rakiraki. Fiji's capital city Suva was 100 km or 65 miles South of the event, while the northern town of Labasa was 135 km or 85 miles from the quake location.

It is unclear as yet whether any of the populations closest to the quake zone - on the northern end of Fiji's main island Viti Levu or on the southern end of Vanua Levu - felt any tremors.

Binoculars

Rare Brown Panda Cub Discovered

A rare brown baby giant panda has been discovered by researchers in northwest China, according to China Business View today.

The two-month old baby has brown fur where normal pandas sport black. The cub still hasn't opened its eyes nor walked, said experts with Foping Giant Panda Reserve in Shaanxi Province.

The baby's mother is a normal color, said Liang Qihui. The brown panda is the fifth to be recorded in China, he said.

Scientists are still not sure why some rare pandas have brown fur, the report said. The first brown giant panda was also found in Foping in 1985.

Dandan was sick when discovered and was taken back to the Panda Study Center. She later gave birth to three normal giant pandas, yet all died young.

Binoculars

White Squirrels are Turning Heads in Maryland, Elsewhere

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© Don Weiser
Pale rodents are a hit as some folks cash in on the oddities

They're not as fearsome as a white whale on the high seas, or as portentous as a white buffalo calf on the Great Plains. But a handful of white squirrels is causing a stir in Maryland.

Two of the critters have been spotted scampering about between the historic Holly Hall Mansion and the Big Elk Mall in Elkton, chasing nuts and making headlines in the local newspaper.

"We all feed them, and they just kind of enjoy themselves, frolicking around in a little yard," said Elkton native Deborah L. Duff, who first noticed the young pair in September.

"They're like any typical squirrel," she said. "If you have enough peanuts, they'll come close, but not close enough to eat out of my hand."

Cloud Lightning

Louisiana Governor declares emergency ahead of hurricane Ida

New Orleans - Hurricane Ida, the first Atlantic hurricane to target the United States this year, plodded Sunday toward the Gulf Coast with 100 mph winds, bringing the threat of flooding and storm surges.

A hurricane watch extended over more than 200 miles of coastline across southeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Louisiana's governor declared a state of emergency.

Authorities said Ida could make landfall as early as Tuesday morning, although it was forecast to weaken by then. Officials and residents kept a close eye on the Category 2 hurricane as it approached, though there were no immediate plans for evacuations.

Bizarro Earth

6.7 Earthquake Reported Near Indonesia

A strong earthquake was reported in the ocean off Indonesia on Sunday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake measured a magnitude of 6.7, the survey reported. It hit at 3:41 a.m. local time (1941 GMT)

It struck at a depth of 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) and had its epicenter about 10 miles (15 kilometers) north-northwest of Sumbawa and 830 miles (1,335 kilometers) east of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

There were no immediate reports that tsunami warnings were issued and no immediate reports of damage.

Arrow Down

Death Toll for Rains in El Salvador Rise to 54

The death toll in El Salvador from the strong rains and flooding caused by the tropical depression Ida rose to 54, El Salvador's Civil Protection director Jorge Mendez said on Sunday.

One of the most affected localities is Verapaz, in San Vicente department in the center of the country, with some 300 houses destroyed, according to the reports from El Salvador's Red Cross.

The Salvadorian authorities have issued the "orange alert" in the departments of Cuscatlan, La Libertad, La Paz, San Salvador and San Vicente due to Ida, which has produced pouring rains and a low pressure system in the Pacific.

The tropical depression Ida is moving across the Central American region, including Mexico and Nicaragua, causing huge damages and leaving thousands of people homeless.

Cloud Lightning

Ida now a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds

Miami, Florida - Forecasters say Hurricane Ida has strengthened to a Category 2 storm, and a hurricane watch was extended to the Florida Panhandle as Ida made its way across the Gulf of Mexico.

The hurricane watch now stretches from southeastern Louisiana to Mexico Beach, Fla. Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami say Ida's winds are now near 100 mph (160 kph), and Ida could get stronger later Sunday.

The hurricane was moving to the northwest near 10 mph (17 kph), and Ida was expected to pick up steam as it moved over open waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ida could reach the Gulf Coast by Tuesday, though it was unclear how strong it would be by then.

Breaking News Update: AP's earlier story is below.

Cloud Lightning

Death toll rises to at least 99 in Vietnam storm

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© Reuters
Authorities in Vietnam have stepped up rescue and relief operations after a powerful storm left at least 99 people dead in the country's central region.

A further 22 people were reported missing after tropical storm Mirinae struck on Monday, destroying hundreds of homes and displacing thousands in a region still reeling from the impact of Typhoon Ketsana just over one month earlier.

Nine provinces have been affected with the provinces of Phu Yen and Gia Lai among the worst-hit, suffering some of the most severe floods seen in several decades.

Bug

Ants Are Friendly to Some Trees, But Not Others

Tree-dwelling ants generally live in harmony with their arboreal hosts. But new research suggests that when they run out of space in their trees of choice, the ants can get destructive to neighboring trees.

The research, published in the November issue of the American Naturalist, is the first to document that ants bore into live trees, and it reopens a centuries-old debate on the relationship between ants and plants.

Ants and certain species of plants and trees have cozy relationships. Myrmecophytes, also knows as ant-plants, have hollow stems or roots that occur as a normal part of their development. Ant colonies often take residence in these hollows. To protect their homes, the ants patrol the area around the tree, killing insects that want to eat the plant's leaves and sometimes destroying vegetation of other plants that might compete for precious soil nutrients and sunlight. The relationship is a classic biological mutualism. The ants get a nice place to live; the trees get protection. Everybody wins.

Better Earth

Picking up mates at the white shark café

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© Tom Campbell/SplashdownDirect/Rex Features
Meet me at the great white café
Great whites aren't all alike. Even though the sharks travel all over the Pacific Ocean to hunt, they tend to mate with others from the same area, forming genetically distinct groups.

That's what local great whites revealed to Barbara Block of Stanford University in California and her colleagues. The team headed out into the Pacific to find the sharks, which they lured to the surface using a silhouette of a seal. They then used a pole to attach two different tags to the sharks and took a sneaky biopsy at the same time. See the biologists tagging white sharks here.

GPS tags were used to track the long-distance movements of the creatures, allowing the team to follow their migration during the colder months from coastal areas to the deep ocean. The other tags gave off sonic "pings" that were picked up by sensors moored in coastal areas, providing more precise location fixes than the satellite measurements, so that the team could tell if the sharks returned to the same areas.