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Baby blue whale nursing captured off the South Coast of Sri Lanka in 2015. Photo: Patrick Dykstra/Barcroft Images

Blue whales, which are the largest creatures on Earth, rely on their memory of productive foraging sites in order to seek out prey.

Why it matters: This insight, which comes from a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps explain how these oceanic behemoths can reach such massive sizes. It also identifies a vulnerability that could challenge the species as warming and acidifying waters cause fish to shift in abundance and range, making historical knowledge less useful to the emerging reality.

What they did: Researchers examined 10 years of movement data for 60 blue whales, each of which was tracked via satellite tracking tags, in the California Current Ecosystem, as well as oceanographic conditions involving the emergence of waves of krill, a small, shrimp-like crustacean that serves as a key food source for blue whales.

What they found: Researchers learned that whale migration more closely matches the 10-year average location of the spring green-up in this region compared to the contemporaneous conditions, which varied more significantly.

  • In other words, as blue whales migrate thousands of miles across the world's oceans, they seek out areas that are their historical best bets, as if consulting a self-taught guidebook to eating krill.
  • "These long-lived, highly intelligent animals are making movement decisions based on their expectations of where and when food will be available during their migrations," says Briana Abrahms, a research ecologist with NOAA and lead author of the new study, in a press release.

Why you'll hear about this again: Phenology, which is the study of life cycle events in the natural world, is already revealing sensitivities to climate change, with changes in the timing of flowering plants posing challenges for pollinators that arrive too early or late, for example.

What we don't know: The new study leaves unanswered the question of what will happen to blue whale populations if warming and acidifying ocean waters from climate change cause food availability to change dramatically, making a history-based hunting strategy less effective.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
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Biden's inflation danger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.

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CES was largely irrelevant this year

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Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

The FBI is tracing a digital trail to Capitol rioters

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Capitol rioters, eager to share proof of their efforts with other extremists online, have so far left a digital footprint of at least 140,000 images that is making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to capture and arrest them.

The big picture: Law enforcement's use of digital tracing isn't new, and has long been at the center of fierce battles over privacy and civil liberties. The Capitol siege is opening a fresh front in that debate.