Call the kava police

A bowl of kava is prepared at Vatukacevaceva village in the north of the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. Photo / Alan Gibson
A bowl of kava is prepared at Vatukacevaceva village in the north of the island of Viti Levu, Fiji. Photo / Alan Gibson

Our lawmakers have just tightened legislation to tackle drink-driving, drugged driving and texting and driving -- but do they now also need to worry about people getting behind the wheel after swilling bowls of ceremonial kava?

Authors of a rather odd study just published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health checked whether there was any link between the sedative herbal drink and car crashes, but found there wasn't enough research to suggest either way.

Four experimental studies which used computer-based driving simulations to analyse the effects of high doses of kavalactones on cognitive and visuomotor performance showed "weak evidence" of slowed reaction time.

Nonetheless, they concluded the knowledge gap of potential risk from kava-driving required "priority attention".

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Your mother is calling for you

A NZ Fur Seal at Auckland Zoo. Photo / Wayne Drought
A NZ Fur Seal at Auckland Zoo. Photo / Wayne Drought

In the supermarket or from the kitchen, most mums would have spent too much time yelling after their wayward rug rats.

But it's Antarctic fur seals that have really got this down to a fine art, with scientists just discovering mothers can call to their pups, amid dense colonies and from more than 60 metres away.

This has been put down to a distinctive vocal pitch, used each time the mothers return from foraging trips to find their little ones among hundreds of other seals.

The pups use both the sound's amplitude and frequency modulations to identify their mother's voice, before they are reunited at close quarters using something you'd think would be even harder to exploit in a crowd of blubbery marine mammals -- smell.

The trouble with kingpins

Hardcore fans of TV's The Sopranos will never know if James Gandolfini's husky gangster really did get whacked in that classic final scene in the diner. Photo / Supplied
Hardcore fans of TV's The Sopranos will never know if James Gandolfini's husky gangster really did get whacked in that classic final scene in the diner. Photo / Supplied

Hardcore fans of TV's The Sopranos will never know if James Gandolfini's husky gangster really did get whacked in that classic final scene in the diner.

To Journey's Don't Stop Believin', the heart-stopping climax cut to black before we could learn the fate of boss-man Tony Soprano.

But scientists can safely assure us that if big Tony did go down in a hail of bullets, his influence would have lingered among his New Jersey mobster mates for a long time after.

US researchers say that in some societies, collective behaviour is determined by that of just one or a few highly influential kingpins. "Relying on just one influential individual may be detrimental to group function if the keystone individual dies," they wrote for Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. "We show that as the tenure of a keystone individual in a group increases, so does its long-lasting influence on the behaviour of other group members, even after its departure."

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The only blokes who know how pregnancy feels

It's often and rightly said that men will never understand what it's like to be pregnant, yet males of one colourful species might empathise completely.

They are seahorses, who are famed for being part of the only family in the animal kingdom in which the male is responsible for pregnancy.

What hasn't been known until now is the degree to which male seahorses nourish and protect their embryos in their brood pouch during the 24-day gestation period.

Findings just published in Molecular Biology and Evolution showed these unusual dads play as much a part in nurturing embryos during pregnancy as human mums do.

Now we know they'll really deserve an extra pair of socks come Father's Day tomorrow.