The tuna that ate a seagull, and other bird swallowing marine megafauna

biology, ecology, marine science, Natural Science, sharks, UncategorizedApril 26, 20162

Seagull swallowed by tuna

Once again, the internet is in a fervour over a rarely documented, but pretty common, animal interaction.  The video below shows fishermen at a pier in L’Escala, Spain tossing small fish to a tuna.  A nearby seagull went for the same fish and was ingested by the tuna, much to everyone’s surprise.  Naturally, the tuna spat out the seagull, luckily uninjured, and it flew away to dive another day:

Seabirds are often ingested by marine megafauna since both groups forage in the same areas, often on the exact same prey.  This video was an artificial overlap of foraging animals created by the people tossing fish from the pier, but in natural settings where two animals feed on the same prey and one of those animals is considerably larger than the other, the smaller animal faces a pretty high risk of being swallowed.

This is especially true for lunge-feeding whales that take in large mouthfuls of fish, water, and anything else at the surface.  Haynes et al. identified three Glaucous-winged gulls in the fecal remains of foraging humpback whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska.  The birds were mostly intact, suggesting that humpback whales aren’t capable of digesting birds well (we’ve all been there).

All of the examples above are accidental ingestion, but some marine animals deliberately target birds for food, too.  Tiger sharks seasonally aggregate at the Hawaiian Islands of French Frigate Shoals to forage on albatross fledglings.  Fledglings are fat, slow, and naïve, making them easy and profitable prey.  This foraging strategy is common among sharks and is the same reason white sharks target seal colonies during South African winters.

The alien giant catfish of the river Tarn in southwestern France is an aquatic example.  They have also acquired a taste for feathered food and learned to ambush aloof pigeons, with a success rate of 28%:

Although not mega- megafauna, the Hilaire’s Side-necked turtles of Brazil have been documented consuming pigeons in a scene that honestly rivals Jaws.  Who’s slow now? (Edit: Thanks to @mattkeevil for the reference!)

Marine and aquatic animals do indeed eat birds, accidentally and deliberately.  Exactly how regularly this happens is unknown, but this antipodean pairing is essentially the chocolate shake and fries of the natural world.  The bottom line is, if you are in the same space where something bigger than you is foraging, you might get swallowed.  Birds, and humans, alike:

The Science of Aquaman: Understanding Dead Water

Aquaman, Natural Science, oceanography, Popular Culture, ScienceApril 22, 20160

Update: legendary oceanographer Dr. Kim Martini stops by to set the record straight on the challenging subject of internal waves. Her comments in bold. 

It has been a long time since I’ve made an entry into our long-running, world-famous, Science of Aquaman series. The last few runs have been heavy on high adventure, but light on ocean tidbits for me to nerd out on. I don’t like to force ocean fact into comic fiction unless the opportunity presents itself.

So, with the newest run of Aquaman, starting with issue #50, focusing around a villain named Dead Water, I thought it was the perfect moment to talk about some physical oceanography. And then…

Dead Water. From Aquaman #51.

Dead Water. From Aquaman #51.

My hat’s off to Dan Abnett, who beat me to the science punchline. If I had to explain the phenomenon of dead water in a single tweet, it would have been pretty close to this. Well played, sir. Well played.

So what is dead water and why does it make maneuvering a vessel so challenging?

(more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – Osprey Version of the Truman Show #ospreycam

biology, ecology, Fun Science Friday, Natural Science, UncategorizedApril 15, 20160

Do you ever get that feeling that you are being watched? I imagine that is what the ospreys at the nesting platform at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) must feel, if they notice at all. These birds have a camera that is trained on their nest 24/7 during the osprey breeding season (generally from mid-March to October).

Osprey in a nest on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Photo Credit: VIMS)

Osprey in a nest on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Photo Credit: VIMS)

Ospreys are unique among North American raptors for their diet of live fish and ability to dive into the water to catch them. As a result of their life history strategies, osprey nests occur around nearly any body of water: saltmarshes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, estuaries, and even coral reefs. The placement of OspreyCam at VIMS provides us with an around-the-clock window into the world and “family” dynamics of these amazing birds. We are able to watch as a mating pair cohabit their nest and use it to rear their young. As you can imagine, once the chickies hatch, things get quite interesting in the osprey nest!

Checkout the addictive live feed below, and happy FSF!!

Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: New Robot to Explore the Depths of Yellowstone Lake

Ocean KickstarterApril 14, 20160

We are engineers and explorers who plan to help Yellowstone scientists make what could be tomorrow’s greatest discoveries.

New Robot to Explore the Depths of Yellowstone Lake

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration is a non-profit engineering group that designs and builds robots to explore the world’s oceans and large lakes. They are trying to build Yogi, a small research ROV to explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone Lake is a fascinating water body, with hydrothermal vents similar to the deep-sea vents that my primary research focuses on.

I’ll let them explain why this project is so cool:

Why explore Yellowstone Lake?

Yellowstone started a proud tradition of protecting our planet’s most unique environments when it became the world’s first National Park more than a century ago. However, there is a part of Yellowstone that very few people have visited. An entire ecosystem that is hidden from us at the surface. A place that scientists are eager to study and may harbor unknown life; the depths of Yellowstone Lake.

We now know that the bottom of the Lake is far from barren, hosting species of crustaceans, sponges, and even small creatures that feed off of the Earth’s heat and chemistry rather than the Sun. ‘Thermophilic’ (or hot water-loving) microbes thrive in the relatively high-temperatures immediately surrounding active thermal features at the bottom of the Lake and scattered throughout Yellowstone Park. These creatures may be microscopic but they have the potential to profoundly influence the medical and biological sciences.

New Robot to Explore the Depths of Yellowstone Lake

Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter Criteria! (more…)

My favorite story about Craig McClain

Blogging, Personal StoriesApril 13, 20160

Sasquatch?

Sasquatch?

Today marks the last day of Craig McClain week for our friends over at Deep Sea News. We’ve celebrated his science, his outreach, and his tremendous spirit. Over the last decade, I’ve been lucky enough to co-author two papers with Craig: Digital environmentalism: tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem and Sizing ocean giants: patterns of intraspecific size variation in marine megafauna, both of which have quickly become seminal in their related fields. Craig is a titan, and my one regret is that I didn’t try hard enough to convince him to determine the author order for Sizing Ocean Giants by our respective sizes.

One time, in New Zealand, he tried to impersonate a Sasquatch.  (more…)

Robots! Artificial Gills! Goats! Craig! A series of unrelated ocean updates

BloggingApril 8, 20160

There’s been some amazing things happening around the oceanosphere, none of which are particularly related. All of which are pretty awesome (or super bogus). Here we go!

1. Robots to save the ocean. Last weekend I was in Miami at We Robot 2016, a meeting about the future of robotics and the law, repping for OpenROV and talking about the wide, wild world of underwater robotics. Joining me was Polk State College’s Joey Maier, presenting his awesome and innovative STEAM outreach program with OpenROV. You can watch the whole talk here (talk begins at about 10:25):

2. Celebrating Craig McClain. Dr. M has been overlord of the venerable Deep Sea News for over a decade. His loyal school of cuttlefish have secretly declared this to be Dr. Craig McClain Week, a tribute to the man and the living legend. Craig spawned Kevin Zelnio, who ultimately inspired the creation of Southern Fried Science, which makes Craig McClain the Grand Nagus of the ocean blogosphere.

3. Triton gills, definitely a scam. The sketchy Triton gills project refunded all of its donor last week, then promptly relaunched with a new, equally tenuous bit of psuedo-technology. At this point, the internet is lousy with due diligence, so really, it’s on you whether or not to back this obviously non-functional product.

4. The worst/best Tinder date in the history of What the Farm?! My *other* project, a podcast about farming just published its 14th episode. The entire last 7 months have been leading up to this incredible, ridiculous, episode, in which my co-host goes on a tinder date and ends up processing his surprise rooster. It’s the best/worst Tinder date ever!


5. Revisiting seaQuest DSV. Remember seaQuest? That amazing, Star Trekkie ocean show from the 90’s? I do. I’m over on the Mary Sue rewatching old episodes of seaQuest DSV and analyzing their science. Enjoy!

April 1 on Southern Fried Science

BloggingApril 1, 2016

For the last several years, we’ve made an effort to produce a silly, though not particularly pranky (because pranks are a whack way to be mean to people who ostensibly trust you), article for April 1.

Today, our own David Shiffman defends his thesis.

Make of that what you will.

Good luck David! And may your snake be small and non-venomous. 

Why scientists sometimes need to be a bit more Sith and a bit less Jedi

Academic life, Personal StoriesMarch 31, 2016

 

Darth Maul

Being a scientist can be very frustrating, even infuriating. It might well be because of the inequalities and unfairness of academic life (such as incompetent administrators, a lack of funding, poor career prospects, or academic bullying and harassment ). However, if you work in the conservation field, the frustrations will positively abound. In addition to the depressingly high likelihood that you will see your study habitat or species disappear before your eyes, there  are potentially the vexing roadblocks of your science being ignored  – or being actively distorted  – by policy makers, other scientists actively working against your efforts – either through their naivety or by deliberate design  – or being attacked by crazy whacktivists because they think your approach is the wrong one .

Stress is often high among scientists, especially those involved in conservation. However, I have found one of easiest solutions to relieve the stress is to write about your problems. Putting all the anger and frustrations down on paper (or on screen) can be sublimely cathartic. You can feel your blood pressure literally dropping points with every word you write.

(more…)

Behaviour Bites: The uncomfortable truth about that penguin video

#SciComm, Animal welfare, Uncategorized

A brilliant thing about the internet is how natural events are immediately accessible to the world-wide public.  Someone can record a cheetah jumping onto their safari car and I can watch it in my Netherlands office less than 24 hours later.  Sadly, most animal videos that go viral are ones that feature animal behaviour that we think directly relates to us, humans – the real stars of the show – but rarely does the behaviour (or the animal in the video, for that matter) have anything to do with us.  Attributing human-like characteristics to non-human things is called “anthropomorphism.”  It’s a natural part of our psyche and explains why we find Elvis in potato chips or Kate Middleton in jelly beans.

Those who genuinely study animal behaviour (ethologists) first learn to recognize anthropomorphism, no matter how subtle, and then train for years to view situations from a strictly behavioural standpoint.  You may look at a dolphin and say it’s “smiling.”  An ethologist will look at that same dolphin and say it simply has its mouth closed.  You may say the dog is “laughing,” an ethologist will say the dog associates small high-pitched barks in quick succession with a reward.  Does this mean that ethologists view animals coldly and without emotion?  No.  It means that ethologists want to decode what the animal is saying, rather than force our meanings or motives into their mouths.  We just see the potato chip.

Now, I hate to also be a wet blanket, but I often get terribly, terribly vexed when I see these videos, so I have decided that when I am not singing about science, I will explain the real behaviour featured in these popular videos.  Warning, this video cannot be unseen:

If you have a video suggestion for the next behaviour bites, please leave it in the comments!

A funny thing happens when you point out ocean scams.

Blogging, Ocean KickstarterMarch 29, 2016

Last Friday I pointed out that, based on the science presented and the behavior of the team involved, Triton Gills is almost certainly a scam. You can read that post and the linked articles for more details.

We do a bit of ocean debunking here at Southern Fried Science, though less and less every year, in part for the reasons listed below. While I find it vital for the ocean community that we push back, especially, about outright fraud, there are a few things that happen which make the entire process enormously frustrating. So much so that you come away disinclined to bother doing anything the next time a fraudulent project comes around.

1. Everyone expects you to be as outraged as they are. I get it, people don’t like being defrauded, people don’t like seeing others defrauded, and everyone feels a sense of self-righteous justice when they find something to rail against in real time. But I’m not the ShittyCrowdfunding Avenger. I saw a bad project, I wrote about the bad project, I gave some interviews to journalists about the bad project. I’m not in the business of doggedly pursuing one crowfunding campaign to extinction. I also don’t assume people are idiots. Whenever you back any crowdfunding campaign, you have to do your due diligence. We make an effort here to make our due diligence public and easy to find so that other can benefit from it.  (more…)

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