So, here are the rules: To answer, follow us on Twitter and tweet at us with the hashtag #mysteryanimal. For example:
Hey @PopSci, is the #mysteryanimal a baboon?
And then I might say "if you think that's a baboon, perhaps you are the baboon!" But probably not, because this is a positive environment and all guesses are welcome and also this is not a very common animal so guess whatever you want!
The first person to get it right wins! We'll retweet the answer from @PopSci, and also update this post so your amazing animal knowledge will be permanently etched onto the internet. Show your kids! Your dumb kids who thought that was a baboon!
Update: The winner is...@OiskaE, who correctly guessed that this is a spectacled eider, Somateria fischeri. The spectacled eider is a sea duck native to the very cold waters off Alaska and Siberia, which may explain its odd fleshy head-covering (which some Twitterers referred to as a "WWII helmet"). This one is a male, which has much brighter and more colorful plumage compared to the female, a typical arrangement in birds (and especially ducks). The female is a textured brown, but still has visible "goggles," the paler patches around the eyes that give the spectacled eider its name.
The spectacled eider mostly hunts bivalves and other shellfish by diving, which is why it braves the brutally cold seas of the north: the Bering Sea has huge amounts of prey for it to hunt. It's listed as federally threatened, so it's illegal to hunt, but it's not a particularly well-understood bird--we're not really sure where it goes in the winter, or how many there are, or whether its population is stable. Also, it looks like a secret agent. Hi spectacled eider!