A significant source of food for me. Of course not everyone can raise their own chickens.
Food is a tricky. For some people, food choice is an essential component of cultural heritage and national identity. For others, food choice is a statement of philosophical or moral principles. For many, being able to reject food is an unobtainable luxury. One thing is certain: food is so central to the human experience that when we question our food choices, when we are forced (or force others) to change them, when we discover that the choices we make are not what we think they are, it is impossible to separate our food ethics from our social structure. Which is why seemingly trivial revelations–bugs in your coffee, meat made slime, or a fish by any other name–often result in major outrage and structural changes. Eating is simultaneously a deeply personal experience and one in which, for much of the developed world, we are completely detached from the source.
Continue reading False Fish, Pink Slime, and Dactylopius frappucoccus: food supply, food choices, and establishing a personal food ethic
This ray-finned fish was my dinner last night. Photo by Andrew David Thaler
When Carl Sagan described our planet as a “pale blue dot” he was invoking the fact that, despite being called Earth, our world is mostly Ocean. The surface of the Earth is a little more than 70% water and the ocean accounts for 98-99% of our total biosphere–the volume of the planet that can support life. Most contemporary theories point to ocean ecosystems–like deep-sea hydrothermal vents–as the launching point for the emergence and evolution of life. Ocean processes dominate biological interactions, even among unwitting terrestrial actors. A new paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, revisits an old debate about the ocean biodiversity and challenges the notion the ray-finned fishes have a marine origin.
In Why are there so few fish in the sea? the authors begin with the seemingly innocuous question–why are there so many more species in terrestrial environments than in marine environments? From there, they look at species counts, phylogenetic relationships, and diversification rates to determine the ancestral state of the most recent common ancestor of one fish class, Actinopterygii, the ray-finned fish. What they found was that, despite the vastly smaller habitat available for freshwater fish, the number of actinopterygian species found those ecosystems was roughly equivalent to the number of species found in marine systems. In both systems, the dominant groups are relative newcomers on the evolutionary stage, with superorder-level radiations happening between 111 – 150 million years ago. Most surprising, the authors discovered that the most recent common ancestor of actinopterygians may have been a freshwater, not marine, fish. Ray-finned fishes may have invaded the ocean from lakes and rivers.
Continue reading If fish evolved on land, where did they all go? Evolution and Biodiversity in the Ocean
“It’s a mom and pop operation, you could say”, described Ted Davis, owner of White Rock Fish Farm in Vanceboro NC. His smile extended ear to ear as he talked about his farm – and the length he goes to ensure his fish are never stressed on their way to the market. The trick? The farm’s small size – 8 ponds – allow the fish to be harvested by hand, each one receiving individual attention on their way to a shipping container. Another thing that makes his farm special? The hybrid striped bass have personality. They’re scared of tractors, eat more when there’s algae in their pond, and elicit hugs from visiting children.
Mr. Davis takes a whole day, with a helper, in harvesting his hybrid striped bass before they begin their frozen journey to Canada. Other growers, including his neighbors down the road, will spend just hours handling even more fish. Hybrid striped bass, however, bleed when they’re stressed. This turns their flesh and fins red, muddling the prized stripes for the marketplace. Plus, stressed fish release stress hormones and other chemicals that consumers can taste. So the White Rock way is to remove as much stress from the fish’s life as possible. Continue reading Aquaculture in North Carolina: White Rock Fish Farm
One of the main advantages of blogs is that they allow knowledgeable parties to write in detail about their area of expertise. Information can now come directly from experts to the interested public. This provides an opportunity for those directly involved in an issue to provide context to (and details of) a story. Here at Southern Fried Science, we strive to provide deeper background in topics in which we are knowledgeable, focusing not only on the broader context but on the subtle nuance.
Continue reading Core Themes for 2012: Focus on nuance
In the past four years, we took our readers from the remote shoals of the Skeleton Coast to the unfathomable depths of the western Pacific. We touched the coasts of every continent, plumbed the depth of every ocean. Throughout this shared journey, the unspoken, implicit rationale, the very heart of our passion, the reason that any of this is worth doing, is that the ocean is awesome. When I say awesome, I don’t mean awesome in some mundane, biblical sense of fear and wonder when staring into the face of god; I’m talking about something much greater than our fragile brains can comprehend.
We have sailed so far, in these four years, and in this voyage I fear that we have found ourselves, like Ishmael, in “the damp, drizzly November of [our] souls.” The conversation at Southern Fried Science has changed, become more cynical, fatalistic, and driven by threats facing the ocean, rather than reasons why we value it. What once was a sea of boundless potential is now cast in bondage to statistics, benefit analyses, weights and measures, action items. In a way, this shift was inevitable. The ocean is in trouble, the world is changing, and the less we understand it, the more we will lose. Without someone to mark the ledger, to take the bearing, the ship is lost.
Continue reading Core Themes for 2012: A renewed sense of wonder
One of the many unfortunate consequences of the decline in traditional media has been a reduction in science reporting. The formerly great CNN science unit closed in 2008, followed soon after by the health and science page of the Boston Globe. Alarmingly few trained science journalists are left, and people without proper training are being asked to cover the few science stories that still make it on the air ( I was once interviewed about shark research by the weatherman from CNN’s “American Morning”). With few exceptions, science and conservation stories are no longer considered a priority to the major news networks and newspapers. However, science is no less important to our everyday lives.
Continue reading Core themes of 2012: Underrepresented issues in marine science and conservation
There is a disconnect between those who conduct scientific research and those who consume it. The public has a vision of science that involves crisp lab coats and expensive equipment, lone students toiling at the bench waiting for an eureka moment or field researchers swinging, Indiana Jones-style through the jungle, Science is, unfortunately, not that neat.
Continue reading Core Themes for 2012: The story behind the paper