Does Shark Week portrayal of sharks matter?

Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science, sharksJune 29, 20155

I’ve been critical of factual inaccuracy and fearmongering on Shark Week documentaries for years. But how big of a problem is this, and how do we know? I asked some of the authors of three recent scientific studies*  to summarize the evidence.

Many species of sharks are in desperate need of conservation. Twenty-four percent of all known species of sharks, skates and rays are considered Threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List. Using a variety of different methods, scientists have documented rapid and severe population declines in many species of sharks all over the world.

Conservation requires public support. In a participatory democracy, new policies and regulations require some public support to pass. It’s easy to get public support to conserve cute and cuddly animals, but ugly animals need protection too. So do animals that scare people, like sharks.

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Lionfishing, Green Crabbing, and Carp Dunking: Southern Fried Science Book Club, week 3

BloggingJune 22, 20152

First off, let me just say, that invasive Asian Carp really do jump out of the water and whack people in the face.

Of all the chapters we’ve read so far, these three were the first that really made me want to try eating invasive species. Maybe it’s because I’m an ocean person, but those fish sounded delicious.

The lionfish chapter was especially intriguing, since I spent a lot of time on the southern tip of Eleuthera during 2001, though I don’t recall ever seeing a single lionfish. I do remember lionfish from the coast of North Carolina, where they’ve taken hold and now completely dominate the local shipwrecks. Lionfish are a nightmare. They have no predators in Atlantic waters. They are extremely fecund. They are voracious generalists, happy to eat anything that fits in their mouths. Most worrying, they can’t be fished via conventional means. Lionfish don’t take the bait, they have to be speared, but they also occur at depths of greater then 200 meters, well beyond any recreation SCUBA or freediving limits.

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Tactical Activism: Four characteristics of an Astroturfing campaign

BloggingJune 16, 20150

Astroturfing is the strategy of using multiple, fabricated social media accounts to produce the appearance of grassroot support for an issue or movement. At its most basic, astroturfing involves ‘sockpuppets’ fake accounts designed to get around bans and blocks or make it seem like more people are participating in a conversation than actually are. At its most sinister, astroturfing enlists a massive industry that specializes in blanketing the internet with apparently unique content that is nevertheless the product of just a few, often paid participants. The New York Times recently ran an exposé on The Agency, a notorious Russian spamhouse that generates mountains of content designed specifically to sow discord across the internet. Somewhere lying between these extremes is Persona Management Software, tools specifically designed to allow institutions to operate multiple, apparently genuine, social media profiles. Many social media PR firms use persona management (or the more palatable “reputation management”) to boost their client’s online reputation. The federal government, incidentally, does, too.

Astroturfing tactics have only gotten more sophisticated in the past five years. Its nearly impossible to tell, at a glance, whether the person your interacting with is part of a sophisticated astroturfing campaign or a genuine human that simply disagrees with you. There are, unfortunately, no guaranteed tests to confirm whether someone is or is not an astroturfer, but there are general patterns that suggest you’re dealing with a managed-persona rather than a genuine person. Taking multiple lines of evidence into account can help you identify and excise astroturfing from your online experience.

Note: in the past five years, I have identified numerous campaigns of which I confidently identify as astroturfing (and in at least two cases have had my suspicions confirmed by directly contacting their PR departments), both in opposition to, and in agreement with environmental (and particularly ocean) issues. However, as this article is intended to be a resource for anyone looking to identify an astroturfing campaign and I am neither interested in dragging up old history nor unnecessarily politicizing this article by calling out bad actors (who may or may not have learned their lesson), I am not going to identify specific instances. Assume that both your favorite and least favorite ocean/environment/political groups have, at some point, attempted to astroturf an issue. 

It’s important to recognize that astroturfing is about volume. If you recognize some of these patterns in specific social media profiles, but they are not part of larger movement, you’re likely not dealing with astroturfing. At worst, you might have a run-of-the-mill troll. In order of least to most complicated, here are four patterns to look for when identifying an astroturfing campaign.

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A series of hunting misfortunes: Southern Fried Science Book Club, week 2

BloggingJune 10, 20150

Jackson Landers does not like the USDA. Twice now, we’ve encountered government oversight in invasive game management, and twice we’ve seen nothing but hard criticism coming from the author. On one hand, I can see where he’s coming from. Government oversight can be frustrating. Bureaucracies are slow to act and often stifled by their own size and internal politics. But some of it, particularly as he tries to hunt pigs in coastal Virginia, seems to be due to his own poor planning–bringing the wrong firearm, for example–or failing to understand the totality of the management effort, focusing instead on what would work well for eradicating pigs from the island, without considering the overall consequences of that eradication process. Longitudinal studies are a good thing, especially when examining a major ecologic regime shift, invasive or not.

Landers, incidentally, also has an article up on Slate about killing pigs to save the environment. I do not disagree.

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For World Oceans Day, ask David anything!

BloggingJune 8, 20150

Happy World Oceans Day, everyone! To celebrate, I’m participating in the Consortium for Ocean Leadership “My Ocean Question” twitter panel, and doing a Reddit “Ask Me Anything.”

From 1-5 p.m. eastern, ask questions about the ocean on twitter using hashtag #MyOceanQ , and tag @OceanLeadership ! I’m on deck to answer questions about sharks from 4-5 p.m.

BAt 5, I’ll be answering questions as part of a Reddit “Ask Me Anything!” You can post your questions here.

We’ll collect my favorite questions (and their answers) for a follow-up blog post.

How to support Southern Fried Science

BloggingJune 5, 20150

One of these magnificent chompers could be yours!

One of these magnificent chompers could be yours!

Southern Fried Science is entering its 8th year of continuous posting. During that time we’ve grown from a single author to eleven writers and have published over 2,000 articles. While we did briefly flirt with ad-support, we ultimately decided that, in order to best serve the ocean community, Southern Fried Science would be ad free and never charge for content.

Hosting this site isn’t cheap, and every year our audience and our bandwidth demands grow. Last year we switched to a Patreon funding model. If you’ve enjoyed Southern Fried Science’s content and found value in our analyses, debunkings, humor, and guidance, please consider subscribing to my Patreon page so that we can keep the servers humming along.

But, wait, there’s more. I’ve revamped the rewards system to include some awesome 3D printed ocean objects. If you missed out on the Megalodon teeth from David’s sunglass campaign, this is your chance to get one. Head on over to Patreon and check it out. 

Three facts about The Ocean Cleanup

Conservation, Environmentalism, marine science, Natural Science, oceanography, policy, Science, Social ScienceJune 4, 20150

The Ocean Cleanup is back in the news, with their first test deployment happening imminently off the coast of Japan. From reviews of their current material, it seems clear that they have not taken the critical assessment of their feasibility study, graciously provided pro-bono by Drs. Martini and Goldstein, to heart. This is unfortunate. As the project has progressed, many in the ocean science and conservation community have not only grown more skeptical of its effectiveness, but are increasingly wary of the potential this project has to cause significant environmental harm. As of yet, The Ocean Cleanup has presented no formal Environmental Impact Assessment, a critical document which would provide the data necessary to properly gauge the potential for environmental harm from large-scale engineering projects.

Image produced by The Ocean Cleanup.

Image produced by The Ocean Cleanup.

Goldstein and Martini’s technical review is essential reading for anyone tracking the progress of The Ocean Cleanup, but there are many additional issues that the Ocean Cleanup has not yet addressed. Here, I present three issues related to the construction and operation of The Ocean Cleanup and the necessary information that, were I in charge of regulating the high seas, would need to know before such a project could be approved.

1. The Ocean Cleanup will be the largest offshore structure ever assembled. 

When completed, The Ocean Cleanup will span 100 km of open sea with a massive array of booms and moored platforms. If successfully constructed in the proposed region, the mooring used will be the deepest ever constructed. The booms will stretch across a major oceanic current, interacting with plankton transport and pelagic migrations.

What I want to know: How will The Ocean Cleanup monitor changes in ocean-wide population structure? What community baselines have been established from which ecosystem impact can be assessed? What contingency are in place should catastrophic failure occur? Ultimately, what chronic threshold will be used to trigger a shutdown of the Ocean Cleanup, should major environmental impacts be detected as a result of standard operation, who will access to the data necessary to monitor those impacts, and who will have authority to trigger a shutdown? (more…)

What do 16,000 dead iguanas smell like? Southern Fried Science Book Club Week 1

BloggingJune 3, 20150

The first thing you notice after reading a couple of chapters of Eating Aliens is that this book is much more about hunting invasive species than about why they’re invasive in the first place. For me, I like that. I’ve spent a large chunk of my career exploring the issues surrounding species invasions, and it’s great to get what is essentially a field report from those working on the front lines. I love meeting the people who run these eradication campaigns, and the politics involved in effective invasive species management. This is my kind of invasive species book.

This first thing that captured my attention in the first two chapters was how radically different the approaches to black spiny-tailed iguanas and green iguanas were. Both are invasive. Both came in through the exotic pet trade. Black spiny-tailed iguanas are omnivores, they get into peoples trash, go after rodents, tear up gardens, and are generally a pest. They’re also only invasive in a relatively small area. People view them as pests and the initial response was a grassroots effort, only later supplanted by the USDA. In contrast, green iguanas are vegetarian, more widely distributed across Florida, and more personable. People don’t view them with the same level of ire and many appreciate their presence, as destructive to the habitat as it really is. It’s harder to hunt out invasive when people don’t view them as pests, and one of the big problems is that, as eradication campaigns become more effective, the invasive populations go down and people begin valuing the invasives due to their rarity. It’s a brutal feedback loop.

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Eating Aliens with the Southern Fried Science Book Club

BloggingMay 29, 2015

Summer is coming, and it’s time to curl up with a good, light, vaguely optimistic book about the world’s ecosystems long slide into total decimation. For the next few weeks, join along with the Southern Fried Science book club, while we tackle Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers. Eating Aliens takes a practical look at the emerging invasivore food ethic–the eating of only invasive and non-native species. We’ll join Landers as he travels the United States hunting and cooking invasive species.

By all accounts, this book is more of an adventure story than a deep look at the causes and consequences of species invasions, which suits me just fine for a good summer read. It also provides a great launch point for us to dig more deeply into the material.

On Wednesday, I’ll post my review of the last weeks readings. Depending on how many people want to participate, we’ll then meet via comment forum, Facebook group, or Google Hangout to talk about Eating Aliens and place it in a broader environmental context.

So grab yourself a copy of Eating Aliens* and read along. Next week we’ll cover the introduction and then talk about black spiny-tailed iguanas and green iguanas.


These links are Amazon affiliate links. By buying the books through them, you help offset some of the costs of running Southern Fried Science.

If you could only follow five people on Twitter, who would they be?

BloggingMay 27, 2015

Every few years, I published a Field Guide to Ocean Science and Conservation on Twitter. Rather than a comprehensive list of the best ocean twitter accounts (a list that would stretch out over more than 500 accounts as of last count), these guides are designed to point readers towards central nodes in the online conversation, from which they could then build upon by following and engaging in conversation. Instead of being a “best of”, the field guides are all about connectivity and how to build it.

I was just beginning to prepare this year’s guide a few weeks ago, when David Lang at OpenROV caught me with an even more challenging question: If you could only follow 5 people on twitter, who would they be? Again, not the “best”, or the funniest, or whatever metric you use to decide who to follow but the five that, if I were absolutely forced to cut my following list down to, would capture the widest breadth depth of the twitter conversations I care about: the most effective community builders, the central-est nodes, the people whose insight is most valuable and who curate and disseminate the most important content. After talking for a while about who the list would include, I was surprised to discover that the majority were people who I followed, but only ever interacted with rarely, if at all. (more…)

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