Ocean apps and beluga migrations: Thursday Afternoon Dredging, April 19th, 2018

Thursday Afternoon DredgingApril 19, 20180

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

Spoils (long reads and deep dives):

Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!

If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

This month’s 3D printed reward is a horn shark and horn shark egg case!

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksApril 18, 20180

I recently unveiled a new tier of Patreon rewards: 3D printed shark and ray models! For $17 per month, you will get a monthly 3D printed educational model of different shark or ray parts in the mail, and you’ll be supporting my efforts to provide these models to schools for free.

This month’s reward is a model of a horn shark (Heterodontus francisci) and a horn shark egg case!

It comes from Alex Warneke, the Science Education Coordinator of Cabrillo National Monument! “”Using 3D printing technology has not only changed the way we educate the public, but it has broadened our perspective on what is possible in National Parks,” Alex told me. “We have been able to connect students to nature from an entirely different angle and provide them the tools and context they will need to succeed as scientists of the next generation.” This individual horn shark comes from the ichthyology collection at Cabrillo, and has been used for public education as well as research. The egg case is one of many that wash up on California beaches.

The original horn shark specimen and the 3D model of it, courtesy Alex Warneke, Cabrillo National Monument

Learn more about horn sharks and their egg cases below!

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An open letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on revising land-based recreational shark fishing regulations

Conservation, Conservation policy, Environmentalism, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksApril 17, 20180

Note: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding a public meeting on April 25th which will include the issue of land-based recreational shark fishing. Part of my dissertation research focused on this topic, so I am submitting expert testimony, but since I no longer live in Florida I am submitting it remotely. I am sharing my testimony here. Anyone else who is interested in attending the meeting in person (Fort Lauderdale Marriott on April 25th), or submitting testimony remotely, is free to quote my talking points below if the appropriate references are cited. 

Dear Chair Rivard, Vice Chair Spottswood, Commissioner Kellam, Commissioner Lester, Commissioner Nicklaus, Commissioner Rood, and Commissioner Sole of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),

My name is Dr. David Shiffman, and I studied land-based shark fishing in Florida as part of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. This research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Fisheries Research (here’s a link to an open access copy) and covered in major media outlets including National Geographic, Nature, and the Miami Herald. Accordingly, I would like to provide expert testimony for your April 25th public hearing on this topic. Since I no longer reside in Florida I am submitting this testimony remotely. As a conservation biologist who spent years studying harmful practices among some elements of the land-based Florida shark fishing community, I am grateful to see FWC holding a public meeting that includes this important issue, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

Overall, the scientific evidence is clear and overwhelming that while many anglers are rule-following and conservation-minded, many common land-based shark fishing practices represent a significant conservation threat to threatened, protected shark species in Florida. Additionally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that in many cases anglers are breaking existing laws and regulations, and that in some of those cases the anglers are aware that they are breaking the law and are explicitly stating that they don’t care. Finally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that many of the arguments put forward by land-based anglers in support of the status quo are not argued in good faith, and are intentionally crafted to misrepresent the facts of the situation.

It is obvious to me, and to many expert colleagues with whom I have discussed this issue, that the FWC can and must do more to protect threatened sharks, building off of early successes that made Florida a leader in shark conservation. Specifically, the FWC can and must do more to regulate these harmful practices, enforce clear violations of existing regulations, and educate anglers about these issues. Below I will elaborate on each of these points and propose specific regulatory, enforcement, and public education changes that can be made to protect sharks without significantly infringing on anyone’s rights. I will also counter several common arguments that are put forth by bad actors in the recreational angling community.

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Alvin dives for early-career scientists, join me in the Marianas Islands, stump a scientist, embraces MPAs, and more! Tuesday (?) Morning Salvage: April 17, 2018

Monday Morning Salvage1

We’re late because Andrew doesn’t understand time zones.

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

The Okeanos Marianas. Our research vessel for the day.

The Levee (A featured project that emerged from Oceandotcomm)

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The ‘Pluto Moment’ for Marine Protected Areas

Conservation, Conservation policyApril 16, 20180

How much of the ocean is really protected?

When the International Astronomical Union changed its definition of what constitutes a planet in our solar system in 2006, demoting hapless Pluto to a dwarf planet, the decision sparked fierce scientific debate and an outcry from the public. But after all was said and done, we earthlings now have a better understanding of our celestial neighborhood, with eight perfectly nice authentic planets, and a greater appreciation of what it takes to be in that exclusive club.

Now, the ocean science community may be facing its own “Pluto Moment.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—keeper of the Red List, the most comprehensive source on the conservation status of life on Earth—also sets the global standard for marine protected areas (MPAs). The IUCN has numerous subcategories of MPAs, from fully protected areas to those that allow some fishing or other activity, but in the group’s eyes all MPAs must be created with the primary goal of conserving biodiversity.

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Is a Changing Environment Bringing Baby Bull Sharks to North Carolina?

Climate change, Science publishing, sharks, The Story Behind the Paper4

Marine environments are typically considered more open than those on land when it comes to animal movement. On land, the range of a species can be limited by geographic features like mountain ranges, canyons, rivers, and anything else that might get in the way. In the ocean, however, actively swimming animals like, say, large sharks have few physical barriers and may instead be restricted by their own environmental preferences. This is why in unusually warm summers you might see tropical fishes in southern New England. Because of this, one of the anticipated consequences of warming ocean temperatures is shifting distributions of mobile and highly migratory species. Basically, changes in temperature are likely to allow marine animals to move into places they haven’t before, and if those temperature changes become consistent, these species might make regular visits or even just start staying there.

This kind of change is already happening and has been documented across a variety of marine species. Now, findings from a new paper in Scientific Reports by me and co-authors from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Simon Fraser University, and East Carolina University show an apex predator may be joining the northward shift.

Juvenile Bull Shark captured in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina. Photo from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

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America’s Second-Largest Estuary is a Lagoon Full of Sharks

A Renewed Sense of Wonder, sharks, The Story Behind the PaperApril 12, 20185

I’ve defaced this colonial-era image of Native American fishing methods from Roanoke Island, NC to show that sharks have been observed in North Carolina’s estuaries for quite some time. Original art: “The Manner of Their Fishing” by John White.

It’s a bit of a cliché to reference the movie Jaws when talking about sharks, but I’m going to do it anyway. There’s a pivotal scene where the giant White Shark is spotted moving into a salt pond, where it proceeds to terrorize the children of protagonist Chief Martin Brody. While no sharks are in the business of regularly eating humans, at least part of this scene is realistic: sharks do make use of inshore, estuarine environments like lagoons, bays, and the lower portions of rivers. Despite the fact that sharks are generally thought to stay out in the ocean, many species are not only comfortable entering estuaries, they actually depend on them. Some species make extensive use of estuaries as shelter from predators and/or a place to grab a bite themselves.

So it should come as no surprise that North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound, part of the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary (the second-largest in the continental U.S. after Chesapeake Bay) offers a lot of potential real estate for sharks. Unlike Chesapeake Bay, Pamlico Sound is a lagoon, which means it’s wide, shallow, mostly water, and connected to the ocean via fairly small inlets between barrier islands. It straddles the transition zone marked by Cape Hatteras between temperate and subtropical marine ecosystems, and the amount of seagrass growth there is second only to Florida in sheer area. This estuary is already well-known for its importance as habitat for such varied (as well as tasty and/or fun to catch) species as Blue Crab, Penaeid shrimps, Flounder, and Red Drum. However, the sharks of Pamlico Sound have mostly been known by scattered reports and sightings from fishermen. That is, until my co-authors and I were able to look through a nice data set to get an idea of which sharks are present in the sound and where in the estuary they might like to be. The results are now published in PLOS One, and here’s a quick summary of how we got them.

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Sea monsters and saving kelp: Thursday Afternoon Dredging, April 12, 2018

Thursday Afternoon Dredging1

Cuttings (short and sweet): 

Spoils (long reads and deep dives):

Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!

If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

Dear Shark Man, what’s the deal with those notches on shark tails?

Dear Shark ManApril 11, 20180

Welcome to  Dear Shark Man, an advice column inspired by a ridiculous e-mail I received. You can send your questions to me via twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or e-mail (WhySharksMatter at gmail).


Dear Shark Man,

Why do sharks tend to have those little notches in their tail fin? Is it like an aerodynamic thing? If you were to fill it with more shark does something magic happen?
Sincerely,

Grateful in Georgia

Dear Grateful,

That’s a great question, and I didn’t know the answer! I reached out to an expert in the structure and function of shark fins, Dr. Brooke Flammang of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, to ask. Here’s what she told me.

“Sadly, there has not (yet) been a study focused on the fluid dynamics of the subterminal lobe (the flappy bit of tissue at the end of the tail, which moves freely because of the notch) of the shark tail. However, we can come up with a really good hypothesis about how it works!

Sharks that have the notch and the subterminal lobe are mostly in the order Carcharhiniformes (and also Squalus, which is the odd duck for everything). In Carcharhiniforms, as compared to, for example, Lamnids, the angle between the dorsal and ventral lobes is small, they have a low aspect ratio, and tails are more flexible. This suggests that Carchariniforms do not generate as much power with every tailbeat as Lamnids do.

Sharks with subterminal lobes tend to be slow-swimming, epibenthic/benthic/demersal dwellers. If you are swimming slowly in an undulatory fashion, you need to generate a considerable amount of force to maintain forward propulsion because you have less inertial benefit than when you are swimming quickly with a stiffer, more streamlined body. One way to increase force generation is to increase the momentum being added to the surrounding fluid – which is to say, you need to move more water away to push yourself forward.

The subterminal lobe adds surface area but is not stiff, lacking muscular control, and trails slightly behind the rest of the dorsal lobe during a fin beat. Because it trails behind, it extends the duration of time that fluid builds momentum before being shed from the tail (and thus generating thrust). Such passive thrust enhancement would likely only be effective at slow swimming speeds with more flexible tails, such as we see within the Carchariniformes. If you fill in the notch (and lose the flappiness of the subterminal lobe) you would decrease the efficacy of this enlarged area of flexible tissue in the tail considerably.”

Congratulations, Grateful, you’ve found a question that no one has explicitly studied, and given an expert an idea for a future project! We can only guess what would happen to  shark’s swimming behavior if this notch were filled in, and Dr. Flammang’s guess is as good as anyone’s!


If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

A scene-by-scene breakdown of the first trailer of “The Meg”

Blogging, Popular Culture, Science FictionApril 10, 20181

Yesterday, the trailer for “the Meg” was released online.  This movie is based on a popular book series that claims that megalodon is actually not extinct, just hiding. (I’m in the 4th book).


I have a love-hate relationship with movies like this, by which I mean that I love them and I hate myself for loving them. While movies like “Jaws” had a measurable negative effect on public perception of sharks, I don’t believe that more obviously ridiculous movies like SharkNado have a similar effect.  Jason Statham playing a marine biologist in a movie that includes Rainn Wilson? Sign me up.

If not for the people who believe that these movies are real and therefore decide to yell at marine biologists on twitter about it, I’d be all for this.  Let’s be totally clear here- Carcharocles megalodon is extinct, and here’s how we know. Shark Week lied to you about it. Actresses from this movie asking about it are not experts. This movie is completely fictional. You can certainly watch it and enjoy it, but please don’t cite it as evidence that a 50 foot long whale-eating shark that used to live in shallow coastal waters near what are now populated areas is not extinct.

Anyway, here is a scene-by scene breakdown of what’s in the first trailer. From it, we can tell that this is an action-packed movie with a great cast that does not stick too closely to the books, and is also not particularly interested in scientific accuracy even with respect to issues unrelated to the “giant extinct animals are actually not extinct”central conceit.

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