Discovery of a Great Hammerhead Nursery

Happy Shark Week (if you celebrate), and I’m so excited to share our newly published open access paper about our research on juvenile great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) with you! (It’s been hard to keep this one to ourselves).

Great hammerheads are an iconic shark species which have undergone significant population declines globally. In 2019, they were assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, which reported overfishing as the greatest threat to their survival. Great hammerheads are known to make incredible long-range migrations and cross state and international boundaries, making them challenging to protect as adults. Little is known about where they are born or where they spend their early years of their life, although there have been scattered reports of juveniles from the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys, and one report from Georgia.

Identifying habitats that are important to juvenile sharks matters because young sharks are often the most vulnerable individuals in a population, and their survival is vital to the future of their species. Many juvenile sharks spend time in “nursery areas”—places where they are less likely to be eaten by predators, or where food resources are abundant. They then expand their ranges as they age, covering more distance as they grow larger. Identifying nurseries has long been a conservation priority for managers and scientists. After several years of research, our team has collected the first scientific evidence of a nursery area for great hammerhead sharks on the Atlantic coast of the United States—within sight of the skyline of Miami, Florida.

There’s a three-part established test for an area to be identified as a shark nursery: 1) Juvenile sharks are more commonly encountered in that habitat than elsewhere; 2) they remain in the area for extended periods; and 3) The area is used repeatedly over years. Our results demonstrate that this area definitely meets two of these criteria, with preliminary evidence that it also meets the third. We’ve found the same habitat may be a nursery area for several other shark species too, including scalloped hammerheads, another Critically Endangered species!

Although great and scalloped hammerheads are protected in Florida waters and must be released if caught, hammerhead sharks often die or suffer serious harm from capture stress. Some of these juvenile individuals were caught with hooks from prior encounters with recreational anglers still embedded in their jaws. We hope learning more about this nursery can help us reduce threats to and better protect these small sharks. We can’t wait to share further updates as new results come in from the project’s telemetry expansion, supported by the Nature Trust of the Americas and a National Geographic Explorer Grant.

Our short scientific paper documenting this work is available open access through the journal Conservation Science and Practice, you can visit the project website here, or I hope you will watch the incredible video (also embedded at the top of the post).

Furniture as Revolution.

This is Part 3 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.


Small-scale DIY solar arrays are neat. Vigilance in chemical exposure risk is a valuable habit to develop. Selecting local materials and responsibly-sourced wood can ease your environmental burden while bolstering creativity. But these are not particularly paradigm-breaking expressions of an environmental ethic. It is the furniture itself that is the most profound manifestation of that ethic.

Creating a piece of functional, practical art that can last for generations is a radical departure from the current trend of disposable fast furniture made of particle board and held together with camming nuts, cheap dowels, and that one textbook that you can never read lest your bookcase collapses under its own precarious weight. Stores like Ikea have done an impressive job making attractive, modern furniture accessible and affordable, but it has done so at significant environmental costs.

Although fast furniture stores, and especially Ikea, have made huge strides in environmental compliance and sustainable production, their core business model is centered on the idea that furniture is disposable, that people want to “refresh” their living spaces every few years, and that the transience of fast furniture is part of its appeal. People want to go furniture shopping. Ikea gives you a reason to. 

The life-cycle of fast furniture is grim. By design. 

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Getting a handle on workworking chemicals, or sometimes we all need to vent.

This is Part 2 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.


Walk into any woodshop and you find a shelf full of chemicals. Solvents, paints, varnishes, lacquers, oils, glues, and a host of other exotic and not so exotic solutions are a staple of the craft. These compounds are used to join, clean, prepare, and finish most woodworking projects, as well as maintain your tools. Do any amount of woodworking, and you’ll almost certainly accumulate a shelf of assorted, half-used, chemicals of your own. 

What’s almost certainly not present in most woodshops, especially hobbyist woodshops, are the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for these chemicals. MSDSs tell you everything you could possibly want to know about the hazards associated with commercial chemical compounds. For many common woodworking products, the MSDSs are pretty intense. 

I’ll be completely honest here. I have never had MSDSs in my workshop. It was only while doing the background research for this article that I realized I needed to pay more attention to the assorted chemicals involved in the craft, and started compiling all the potential hazards. I suspect that the vast majority of hobbyist woodworkers are the same. 

Woodworking chemicals contain irritants, release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are cut with heavy metals, and are often just plastic. They can be bad for your skin, bad for your lungs, and bad for your brain. When produced, disposed of, accidentally discharged, or as they break down through regular wear, they can release harmful compounds into the environment. If not disposed of correctly, some of these products will spontaneously burst into flames.

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A shed with solar panels

I turned my woodshop into a personal solar farm.

This is Part 1 of Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking.


For almost a decade, I’ve dreamed of building an off-grid solar system to power my woodworking, provide reliable back-up power for my home, and reduce the number of 2-stroke engines in my life. This was finally the year where I had the time and resources to do it. 

My workshop isn’t big. The 12-foot by 16-foot shed houses not just my tools and workbenches, but also all our yard and gardening supplies, storage for assorted seasonal gear and decorations, and a pile of robot parts. So I needed a compact system that still delivered the amps. 

Building a small off-grid solar system is simpler than you might think. Building a small off-grid solar system that can run power tools is a bit more complicated. 

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Built to Last: A Reflection on Environmentally Conscientious Woodworking

I make things. I make weird electronic things. I make scientific instrument things. And I make things out of wood. I make a lot of things out of wood

When I’m not working on marine conservation technology, educational programming, or high seas policy, I’m usually out back in the woodshop, building furniture, functional art, and other woodcrafts. This probably isn’t a surprise. For the last eleven years, one of the most popular articles at Southern Fried Science has been How to build a canoe from scratch on a graduate student stipend

Every few years, I turn an analytical eye on my hobbies, assessing the lifecycle of the materials I use, the sources of inefficiency, and, most importantly, how the practice of the craft aligns with or deviates from my personal environmental ethic. In other words, I do a sustainability audit on my recreational activities. For the last year, I’ve focused on understanding and improving the environmental impacts of my woodworking.

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Shark Conservation: What’s New and What’s Next? The text of my UN Early Career Ocean Professionals Day talk

On June 1, 2021, I was invited to speak at Early Career Ocean Professionals Day, part of the kickoff for the United Nations Decade of the Ocean. The text of my remarks, with links to relevant references, is provided below.

Greetings to everyone watching virtual Early Career Ocean Professionals Day around the world! My name is Dr. David Shiffman, and I’m an interdisciplinary marine conservation biologist based in Washington, DC. I study threatened species of sharks, and how to effectively protect them. I also study the causes and consequences of public misunderstanding of these issues. In addition to research and teaching, I am a public science educator, and I invite you to follow me on twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @ WhySharksMatter, where I’m always happy to answer any questions anyone has about sharks.

Today I’d like to talk to you a little bit about my work on why we should protect sharks, how we can most effectively do that, what people think about this issues, and why all of this is important. First of all, no, sharks are not a threat to you or your family, despite what you may hear in inflammatory fearmongering news reports. Hundreds of millions of humans enter the ocean every year, and a few dozen are bitten—more people are killed by flowerpots falling on their heads from above in a typical year than are killed by sharks. Sharks also play vital roles in the healthy functioning of marine and coastal ecosystems, ecosystems that humans depend on for food security, livelihoods, and recreation. In short, people are better off with healthy shark populations off our coasts than we are without them.

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The day they arrived: a story of Bitcoin, terraforming, and invasion.

The day they arrived, atmospheric CO2 held steady at 1600 parts per million and the coin traded at #75,236,808.

The coin had surged in the years after the Majority War, when a single miner locked down enough processing power to strip the supply cap from the Core. The Battle for Hard Fork was the bloodiest day in the long history of cryptocurrency. But we won, and the minority nodes now burn endlessly, hashing memes in obscurity while we determined the financial future of the human race.

At least, that’s what I thought.

I awoke in a haze. Still a little drunk from the night before. Sweating in the heat of from the midnight sun. Greenland-3 was the largest mining campus in the Northern Hemisphere and we knew how to keep the evenings lively. Once again, my past self had betrayed my present by signing me up for first shift. 

I crawled down the shaft into the main hub and checked my servers. Everything looked fine. A few GPUs were burned but we had plenty to spare. They were older and power hungry, anyway. The new batch would get us twice the hashes per joule.

I grabbed a few GPUs off the rack and climbed down into the bowels of the machine.

It was hot. Hotter than it should be for 15:15 Beijing time. Someone, somewhere, is having a very good day. I crawled through the server racks, scanning for the dead cards. They were clustered, in the back corner, on the same control board. Must’ve been a local surge.

As I swapped out the old cards, I felt someone behind me. I turned, expecting one of the techs from last shift on their way out.

It wasn’t.

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To Achieve 30% Ocean Protection Governments Can Look Beyond Conventional Tools

Alternatives to marine protected areas could help meet global conservation target by 2030

There is growing agreement among government leaders, Indigenous groups, communities, and scientists that governments and other regulatory bodies must protect and conserve at least 30% of Earth’s coastal and marine areas by 2030 to secure and maintain a healthy ocean, support resilience in the face of climate change, improve food security, and more. The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity is negotiating a new 10-year strategy for nature and people, and the draft text already includes a version of this critical “30 by 30” target. The Pew Charitable Trusts is among many stakeholders encouraging the convention to adopt that draft at its 15th Conference of the Parties in China this October.

The proposed target includes two approaches to ocean management: marine protected areas (MPAs) and “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs). Although the two measures differ in their objectives—MPAs are designed specifically to conserve nature, while many OECMs are established primarily for other reasons—they both help to protect biodiversity and support Indigenous and local communities that depend on a healthy marine environment. Although understanding of the most effective design and implementation of MPAs has evolved in recent decades, decision-makers are only just starting to consider OECMs as a marine conservation tool. If properly delivered, OECMs could be a powerful means of improving ocean health.

What are OECMs?

In recent decades, the global community has focused primarily on MPAs to reach global biodiversity objectives, in part because there was no official definition or criteria for OECMs until 2018. That year, during the 14th Conference of the Parties held in Egypt, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the following definition, based on the recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Task Force on Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures:

“a geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in-situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio-economic, and other locally relevant values.”

In simple terms, OECMs might not be designed primarily to protect biodiversity but still deliver effective and enduring conservation outcomes. For example, a watershed that’s managed primarily to ensure clean drinking and irrigation water could still protect critical wetland habitat for migratory birds. Some OECMs do list biodiversity conservation as a primary objective but are not officially classified as MPAs for governance reasons. This may happen, for example, where Indigenous peoples or local communities have decided to conserve an area using traditional practices, without formal recognition by the regional or national government. OECMs therefore may be governed by any one of a diverse range of authorities and arrangements, from national and tribal governments to local communities.

According to the IUCN, other examples of potential OECMs include privately owned areas that have specific conservation objectives but are not recognized as protected areas under national legislation; shipwrecks and war graves in coastal and marine areas that also safeguard biodiversity; sacred natural sites with high biodiversity values that are conserved for their faith-based significance; and permanent or long-term fisheries closure areas that, through effective management, result in the conservation of additional elements of biodiversity.

OECMs can help safeguard biodiversity and achieve 30 by 30 targets.

Expanding the conservation toolbox to include OECMs would provide a wider range of mechanisms for achieving marine conservation goals, including the global 30 by 30 target. Importantly, OECMs can also acknowledge Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ important conservation contributions in protecting sacred sites, culturally important areas, and biodiversity elements without necessarily involving the formal regional or national government processes required for protected areas. OECMs, if equitable and effective, have the potential to complement protected areas around the world.

Two key objectives of the proposed 30 by 30 target are to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and enhance climate change resilience, which in turn should deliver positive outcomes for all people. Given the ocean’s influence on weather, climate, food security, and more, it is not an exaggeration to state that every one of us relies on a healthy marine environment.

At the same time, expanding the designation of OECMs in sectors such as fisheries carries some risks. For example, a government might attempt to designate an area-based fisheries management measure as an OECM and claim it is contributing to the 30 by 30 target, even if it doesn’t meet the Convention on Biological Diversity’s definition and criteria for an OECM. Seasonal fisheries closures and similar measures can play a crucial role in sustainable ocean management but do not necessarily contribute to the 30 by 30 target.

The IUCN and others have done significant work over the past decade to communicate with ocean stakeholders—including government leaders, Indigenous groups, communities, and scientists—about MPAs’ importance and what constitutes effective protection. Similar engagement is now critical to emphasize OECMs’ importance as a conservation tool, especially in the context of Indigenous land and ocean management. Over the coming months and years, as OECM guidance is published across various sectors and global institutions—for example, by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the IUCN—it is critical that we see consistency of language and standards. Otherwise, OECMs could undermine global conservation efforts by capturing designations in national and local accounting that bring minimal, if any, biological benefits. A well-coordinated effort, which ensures that OECMs in all sectors bring significant benefits to marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them, is critical to the rejuvenation of the ocean.

Masha Kalinina, Johnny Briggs, and Angelo Villagomez are senior officers working on marine habitat protections at The Pew Charitable Trusts. This piece was originally posted on The Pew Charitable Trusts website.

A sea turtle robot looking fearsome on a blue background.

I built a horrifying cyborg sea turtle hatchling so you can learn a little bit about behavioral ecology

Sea turtles, in case you didn’t know, are pretty great. These giant marine reptiles have been chilling out in the ocean for over 100 million years, largely unchanged. But their evolutionary foray onto land along with the rest of the tetrapods (a move largely regarded as a mistake by most extant species) left them with one one critical vulnerability: they have to return to land to lay their eggs, and their hatchlings must survive a grueling march to the sea within minutes of emerging into the world.

To find their way back to the sea, sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests in the darkness and track light cues on the horizon, tracking the glow of starlight on waves. This becomes a huge problem when the beach is littered with the pollution of artificial lights, leading hatchlings away from the sea and towards streets, resorts, and beachfront bars. Light pollution is such a serious problem for sea turtle survival, that many municipalities which host turtle nesting beaches ban the use of superfluous lighting during nesting season. 

Protecting sea turtle nests and nesting sea turtles, particularly the massive, primordial leatherback sea turtle, is a core mission of the Dominica Sea Turtle Conservation Organization (DomSetCO). Leatherbacks are exceptionally sensitive to light. On the top of their heads is a translucent patch of skin directly above the pineal gland. This window to the turtle’s brain serves as a rudimentary third eye which can sense how light changes.

You can help support DomSetCO by donating to our campaign to build the Rosalie Conservation Center, a hybrid rum distillery, fish hatchery, and conservation center in Dominica. Drink rum, save turtles. 

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The most massive ‘massive sardine’ discovered in the deep waters of Japan

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of the Deep-sea Mining Observer. It is reprinted here with permission. For the latest news and analysis about the development of the deep-sea mining industry, subscribe to DSM Observer here: http://dsmobserver.com/subscribe/

Featured image: Colossal Slickhead, from Fujiwara et al. 2021

Even with the intense research focus of the last twenty years, the deep sea is still almost entirely unexplored. New species are par for the course every time a fresh sample is recovered from the abyssal plain. The vast biodiversity of the deep seafloor is offset by a biomass deficit; the denizens of the deep sea, with a few notable exceptions, are few and far between, their size often limited by the paucity of food available to them. While giants like the Japanese King Crab or the Giant Deep-sea Isopod do occur, the vast majority of deep-sea species are relatively small. 

The discovery of new species in the deep ocean is common, but the discovery of new giants in the deep sea is extremely rare. 

Last month, a research team from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) led by Dr. Yoshihiro Fujiwara and the Deep-sea Biodiversity Research Group announced the discovery of a new species of slickhead from the deep waters around Suruga Bay. Weighing in at 25 kilograms and measuring 140 centimeters, the Colossal Slickhead, described from four specimens recovered from depths greater than 2000 meters, is the largest species of slickhead (a group of deep-sea fishes found in waters deeper than 1,000 meters) yet described

In Japan, slickheads are commonly called sekitori iwashi–’massive sardines’. In recognition of its immense size, the researchers gave this most massive of massive sardines the common name yokozuna iwashi, after the title given to champion sumo wrestlers. 

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