Ocean Things to Be Thankful For: Megalodon is Dead, but We Still Have Sharks (and Whales)

A Renewed Sense of Wonder, Conservation, Environmentalism, evolutionNovember 26, 20140

This time of year, it’s appropriate to think of things to be thankful for.  This being an ocean-focused blog, I’d like to share something ocean-related that I’m thankful for, and hopefully spread a little Ocean Optimism in the process.  What I’m thankful for is that Carcharocles megalodon is extinct.  This may not seem like cause for optimism, but honestly the present-day ocean and Megalodon are better off without each other.  And while we may not have 50-foot sharks around anymore (at least not the superpredatory kind), there are actually a lot of species we know and love that have either outlasted Megalodon or are only around because the big beast isn’t around anymore.

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Ocean things we’re thankful for, West Coast Edition

Blogging, Personal Stories0

As some of you know (especially if you follow us on OpenExplorer), Amy and I have once again made the vast, continent-spanning migration from the Pacific to Atlantic coast, this time settling down in rural Virginia. While we enjoyed our time out in the weirdly foggy, impossibly dry San Francisco Bay Area, we also learn that the southeast US is our ecological niche. Even so, we met hundreds of new and interesting people, got to play with some tremendous tech, and had a great time. So here are the top five San Francisco Bay Area ocean things we are thankful for.

1. Vallejo

Of all the cities that comprise the “Bay Area”, Vallejo, the smallest and furthest from the heart of San Francisco, feels the most maritime, by far. With a downtown only blocks from the waterfront, an expansive city park right at the edge, and an active ferry terminal for commuters, people with a nautical cut to their jib will feel right at home. Though smaller and more suburban than most Bay Area cities, it’s also a whole lot cheaper, with 2 bedroom houses renting for the cost of hot swapping* a futon in San Francisco.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Death Star

Blogging, ecology, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural ScienceNovember 21, 20140

Happy Fun Science FRIEDay!

While Ebola wreaks havoc on Homo sapiens in the terrestrial world, there has been an even more virulent disease causing the destruction of a marine animal, the sea star. Today we talk about this deadly condition impacting sea star populations and the recent discovery of just what is causing this affliction.

 

Royal starfish (Astropecten articulatus) on the beach. (Photo credit: TheMargue - http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2884079538)

Royal starfish (Astropecten articulatus) on the beach.
(Photo credit: TheMargue – http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2884079538)

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Agents of seal: stealthy seals use subsurface structures to sneak by sharks

Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksNovember 18, 20141

michelleMichelle Jewell is a Zoologist specialized in predator/prey behaivour and the Scientific Communicator for EDNA Interactive.  She has spent the past 4 years studying the behaviour of white sharks and Cape fur seals at Geyser Rock, ‘Shark Alley’, South Africa.  

Predators are highly influential in ecosystems because of the many top-down effects they can have.  The most obvious and direct way predators influence an ecosystem is by eating and reducing the number of prey animals in the system, but another equally important way is the indirect influence they have on the behaviour of prey animals.

If you have avoided parking on a risky-looking street, taken a different route between classes to avoid a bully, or abandoned a forest hike because of snapping twigs in the distance, you have been indirectly affected by perceived ‘predators’.  In the wild, prey animals will also change their behaviour when they perceive that predators are around, and these altered behaviours often influence other species, ultimately shaping the ecosystem.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – The Origin of HIV

Blogging, Fun Science Friday, History of Science, Science, Social ScienceNovember 14, 20140

Happy Fun Science FRIEDay

 

After a hiatus, I hope to get back to regularly writing these pieces. This week I was particular inspired to focus on an article I read about the discovery of the origins of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and subsequently the origins of AIDS.

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 (in green) budding from cultured lymphocyte. Multiple round bumps on cell surface represent sites of assembly and budding of virions. Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 (in green) budding from cultured lymphocyte. Multiple round bumps on cell surface represent sites of assembly and budding of virions.
Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

AIDS burst onto the scene like a bat out of hell, wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting human population. First recognized in the early 1980s by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, better known as the CDC), AIDS went on to cause approximate 36 million deaths globally becoming one of the most devastating diseases in human history. But where did this affliction come from and what were the chain of events that led to the pandemic?

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Marine Ecology via Remote Observation: an update from #ROV2PNG

Life in the Lab, Natural Science, ScienceNovember 12, 20140

Note: we’re home after an exceptional 3 weeks of work in Papua New Guinea. Sadly, the course was so intense that we weren’t able to produce updates during the program. Instead, please accept these time-shifted updates from .

After more than a week of building robots, developing research proposals, presenting and defending their proposals to the class, and refine their methodology, it’s finally time to enter the field, sending our small fleet of robots out to explore marine ecosystems around Kavieng in New Ireland Province.

One of the more sophisticated ROV control vans.

One of the more sophisticated ROV control vans.

The fantastic student projects include: a survey of hard coral coverage around Nago Island to assess reef health; an assessment of garbage dumping around the Kavieng marketplace and other related areas; a test to determine if the electromagnetic fields of the OpenROV might attract sharks; a study of seagrass distribution and abundance of related seagrass species; a survey of seastars around Nago and Nusa islands; and an assessment of commercially important sea cucumber species in Kavieng Lagoon. All in all,an impressive array of diverse and challenging projects.

And these projects were challenging. Students weren’t just learning new fieldwork skills, they also needed to master flying the ROVs. Navigating through the rough surf, maintaining a straight and stable heading, controlling depth, recording video, watching for passing boats, and taking copious notes were all required of these 3 to 5 person teams.

Our youngest student tries the ROV on for size.

Our youngest student tries the ROV on for size.

They rose to the challenge, fixing robots in the field, adapting their sampling design to account for changes in the weather and unforeseen obstacles in the sea. The robots were not without their own problems. One robot flooded and needed a rebuild, others lost access to their IMUs (the internal sensor bank which feeds environmental data to the operator), some got tangled and needed a manual rescue. But after 3 days of heavy use, all six ROVs returned battered, but functional.

We ended class on the last day with student presentations. Each group presented their results, an impressive display of tenacity, teamwork, curiosity, and adaptability, the heart of what field science is all about.

Newly-build robots face many sea trials: an update from #ROV2PNG

Life in the Lab, Natural Science, ScienceNovember 10, 20140

Note: we’re home after an exceptional 3 weeks of work in Papua New Guinea. Sadly, the course was so intense that we weren’t able to produce updates during the program. Instead, please accept these time-shifted updates from #ROV2PNG.

Students prepare for Pilot Academy.

Students prepare for Pilot Academy.

With a week of robot building behind us, it’s time to put our robots, and our newly minted robot pilots to the test. Monday began with a day of tether management and pilot training. The OpenROV does not come with its own, pre-built tether management system; operators must design their own and adapt it to the unique challenges of their field environment. So we set the team off to develop their own tether management systems and the results were astounding, artistic, and clever.

One of several innovative tether management systems.

One of several innovative tether management systems.

With tethers securely managed, it was time for Erika’s Pilot Academy. As some teams continued to perform maintenance and troubleshooting, and some worked on their ecology projects, others were led, group by group, to the test tank, where Erika and Dominik had built a challenge course for them to fly. Without looking at the tank or robot, each student had to pilot an ROV around the tank, collect a weighted target, and bring it to the surface. Even for veteran OpenROV pilots, this exercise can be challenging. We closed out the first day of pilot training with 23 skilled pilots.

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Watch Outbreak Wednesday at 8 and tweet along with public health experts!

Popular Culture, Science0

outbreakMuch of the public panic about the current ebola situation can be contact traced to the 1995 movie “Outbreak.” This fictional movie is based on the supposedly true story “the Hot Zone” by Richard Preston , though an important new analysis by infectious disease researcher Dr. Tara Smith shows that the Hot Zone has some major factual errors.

Wednesday evening at exactly 8 p.m. eastern time, a group of public health experts are going to press “play,” begin watching Outbreak, and tweet along. You can follow and join the twitter conversation at #OutbreakChat

Outbreak can be viewed on Amazon instant video (it costs $2.99 to rent it). To ensure that your viewing is synchronized to the chat, purchase the movie in advance so you can press play at exactly 8 p.m.

In addition to fact-checking from public health experts, we’ll also be making our customary snarky commentary, including a drinking game for those who wish to participate.

Six new robots join Papua New Guinea’s marine science assets: an update from #ROV2PNG

Life in the Lab, ScienceNovember 7, 20141

Note: we’re home after an exceptional 3 weeks of work in Papua New Guinea. Sadly, the course was so intense that we weren’t able to produce updates during the program. Instead, please accept these time-shifted updates from #ROV2PNG.


Students prepare to soak test their ROV.

Students prepare to soak test their ROV.

After a long week of intensive robot building, six brand new OpenROVs went into the water on Friday. Our student’s hard work paid off as their robots dove into the freshwater test tank. There are few things more rewarding than watching students, who’ve sweated over a difficult build while learning challenging new skills for 12 hours or more every day, launch their completed robots drive them around the test tank for the first time.

Of course, failure is part of our pedagogy, and two robots will require another day of troubleshooting before they can be released into the sea.

Dominik sets up the Chromebooks for their first flight.

Dominik sets up the Chromebooks for their first flight.

Amy delivers a talk on Human Ecology.

Amy delivers a talk on Human Ecology.

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Media coverage of the Yates Supreme Court case isn’t treating illegal fishing seriously

Conservation, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceNovember 6, 20141

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Yates vs. the United States. Commercial fishermen John Yates was caught with dozens of illegally caught grouper, he destroyed much of the evidence of this crime, and he was charged under a law designed to prosecute people for destruction of evidence. He is now suing the government for overreach.

The question of whether a law most commonly known for being used to deal with destruction of financial records can also be used to deal with destruction of evidence of illegal fishing is an interesting one. The Obama administration claims that the law was designed to be a generic Federal destruction of evidence ban, and it has also been used, according to a USA Today article, to “go after the destruction of cars, cash, cocaine, child pornography- even murder weapons and bodies.” It seems to me that it is an appropriate role of government to write regulations to ensure that our shared natural resources are sustainably exploited, it is an appropriate role of government to enforce violations of those laws, and it is an appropriate role of government to punish people for destroying evidence of those violations. A much bigger problem, however, is with much of the media coverage of this case.

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