Prof Colin Simpfendorfer is the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture at James Cook University. He has more than 25 years of experience in researching sharks, and has published extensively in the scientific literature on shark biology, ecology, fisheries and conservation. He is a graduate of James Cook University where he undertook both his undergraduate and postgraduate training. After completing his PhD he worked on shark fisheries at the Western Australian Fisheries Department before moving to Florida to work at the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory. He returned to JCU in 2007 to lead the Fishing and Fisheries Research Unit, where he has helped build a research group focused on improving our understanding of sharks and how best to conserve and manage their populations.
Call it a shark cull, shark control or bather protection, for decades governments have been trying to reduce the risk of humans being killed by sharks – by killing sharks. New South Wales, Queensland, KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Hawaii, Dunedin (New Zealand), Hong Kong, Somalia (during the US military intervention) and now Western Australia have, or had, shark control programs to reduce the risk of human-shark interactions.
Western Australia’s new program has sparked huge controversy, with many calling for the government to stop and pursue alternatives.There have been a range of claims that there is no science to support shark control. Many of these have been based on the effects of removing large predatory sharks on ocean ecosystems or that there is no evidence that shark culls reduce the risk of attack.Both of these are valid scientific considerations and need to be taken into account. However, neither addresses whether there is some scientific basis to shark control programs.
So here I would like consider whether there is a scientific basis to shark control programs. To do this I’ll look first at the theory, and then if there is evidence to support it based on analysis of data from the programs in KwaZulu-Natal and Queensland.
I have to admit, I love this title, but cannot claim it as my own. It is the title of the research paper that forms the basis for today’s FSF, internet trolling.
Anyone who has ever spent remotely anytime reading the comments section of pretty much anywhere on the internet has likely observed a Troll (why some of you reading may even have engaged in Troll-like behavior). While these Trolls do not physically hide under bridges and/or steal sheep, their actions parallel many of the annoyances of their fairy tale counterparts. As defined by wikipedia, an Internet Troll “is a person who sows discord on the Internet… with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”
At least for a month.
Roughly every month your beloved Southern Fried Science rotates the main header image for its site. The idea behind this format, is that it freshens up the site’s homepage, but also gives our readers the opportunity to have their pictures featured on the site.
This month’s header image was provided by me, and was captured with Wormcam. The image displays a mud crab in it’s burrow near the mouth of the York River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, under the Coleman Bridge (a bit of specifics for those familiar with the area).
I love this image for so many reasons. 1) The image is just plain cool. Aesthetically it is one of the better images we have captured with Wormcam. But I also love this image because 2) it represents scientific progress. Studying the subsurface of soft-sediments is notoriously difficult given the opaqueness of sediment. Studying subsurface sediment processes, continually, over long periods of time is even more difficult given the corrosive nature of sediment redox reactions. Wormcam provides us the ability for long-term observation of subsurface sediment processes, and in the process captures never before seen behaviors, interactions, and dynamism of the structural complexity cryptically hidden below the sediment surface of marine systems.
This image captures a mud crab in it’s burrow, but is apart of a larger series of images that displays the behavior and actions of this buried crab in response to erosion and accretion events, co-occupancy of the burrow by other organisms, predatory digging around the mouth of the burrow, and even the intrusion of a clam siphon from below into the burrow.
Ain’t Science Cool!
Submit potential header images to have your own work featured on the homepage, and possibly even share your store about the image!
Earlier this year, a research team from Spain released a surprising new estimate of mesopelagic fish biomass that is 10 times greater than previous estimates. This new study raises the total estimated biomass of mesopelagic fish from 1 billion tons to 10 billion tons, accounting for 95% of all fish biomass. The news media ran with dozens of variations on the “plenty of fish in the sea” trope, suggesting that the global fisheries may be more abundant and reversing the doom-and-gloom message of fisheries decline.
This is not correct.
The fish in question are small, mid-water species like myctophids and cyclothones, fish that are incredibly important for ocean ecosystems, but commercially non-viable. The reason they were missed in previous studies is that these small, agile fish avoid nets; This new study uses SONAR and other acoustic tools to measure biomass. So while there is a huge, untapped fish stock in the mid-water world, it is not a commercial fishery.
Let’s put things in perspective.
At ScienceOnline Together 2014, I moderated a session titled “social media as a scientific research tool” (background information here). We had a great discussion, and I wanted to thank everyone who came or participated virtually. For the benefit of those who couldn’t make it, I wanted to summarize our discussion.
1) Social media and “big data” can be an incredibly powerful research tool. The ability to study what hundreds/thousands/millions of people are saying, and therefore thinking, about a given topic has countless implications for research. I listed 5 examples in my background blog post, but we discussed many more in the session.
2) It is relatively easy to use social media as a research tool. Though some of the software, like Radian6, can be expensive, if your project is relatively small, it can be inexpensive (even free) and simple to get the data you need. To demonstrate this, attendee Edmund Hart performed an analysis of tweets about the NC Natural Sciences Museum within a few hours of my session ending. Someone made a NodeXL graph of the resulting #scioResearch twitter conversation before I had even gotten snacks in the break after my session. The programming involved is relatively simple, which means that, in the words of an attendee, even if you can’t do it yourself, buy your friendly neighborhood programmer a beer and they can do it for you quickly.
3) The ease in getting the data doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t involve a trained social scientist in study design and data analysis. In order to ensure that the data is analyzed correctly, be sure to involve someone in the project who is familiar with content and discourse analysis, the study of knowledge and attitudes, etc. Just because you can easily obtain the data does not mean that you have the training needed to properly analyze it. As has frequently been discussed, social science is a technical and rigorous discipline.
4) It is important to understand what data you AREN’T getting from social media. Any tool has its limitations. For example, if someone isn’t on twitter (for any reason, including but not limited to “doesn’t have a smartphone/computer” or “doesn’t live in an area with internet/3G”), then you simply won’t be able to study their knowledge and attitudes using their tweets.
5) There are important ethical considerations when using social media and “big data” to study certain subjects. While someone’s tweets are essentially public statements from a legal perspective, someone with only a few followers on twitter is probably not thinking of their tweets in this way. While a study like mine (knowledge and attitudes with respect to shark conservation and management) is unlikely to have any negative effect on the stakeholders I study, it is easy to see how a study that can detect medical conditions like post-partum depression can cause problems for the research subjects if the information gets into the wrong hands. As with any research involving humans, it is important to get approval from your Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Thanks again to all who participated in the discussion! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!
The SciFund Challenge came to a close last night. In total, more than 15 projects, including mine, were fully funded! More than $45,000 was raised for scientific research!
My minimum funding goal for this project was $3,000, an amount which would have allowed me to use stable isotope analysis to study the feeding ecology of shark species in two different habitats in south Florida, processing a total of 300 samples. This represented the minimum I’d need to perform one of my Ph.D. dissertation chapters. With the SciFund challenge now closed, I can report that (after credit card processing fees and Experiment.com’s fee), I will receive almost $8,000, more than twice my minimum goal and enough to process 800 samples from five different locations throughout south Florida!
I want to thank everyone who donated to my project or helped spread the word about it (it was featured by io9 and Smithsonian Magazine, as well as countless Facebook posts and tweets). 117 people donated to my project, and 12 of them will be joining our lab for a day of shark research. Thanks also to the SciFund Challenge and Experiment.com teams!
Dr. Chris Parsons has been involved in whale and dolphin research for over two decades and has been involved in research projects in every continent except Antarctica. Dr. Parsons is an Associate Professor at George Mason University as well as the undergraduate coordinator for their environmental science program. He’s a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has been involved in organizing the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) (the world’s largest academic marine conservation conference) and is currently the Conference Chair and a Governor of the Society for Conservation Biology. In addition, Dr. Parsons has published over 100 scientific papers and book chapters and has written a textbook on marine mammal biology & conservation.
At a recent conference of marine scientists I attended, one of the speakers announced, albeit tongue in cheek, that they “hated dolphins”. This prompted a round of applause and cheers from the largely marine biologist audience, much to the chagrin of the marine mammal researchers in the audience (there were several, and almost all of these were involved in marine mammal conservation).That sort of attitude unfortunately is common in the marine biology community. There seems to be a misapprehension that dolphin researchers get all the glamour, glory and funding, and to paraphrase Yoda, this leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.
I’ve been studying dolphins (mostly in conservation-focused research) for over 20 years, and admittedly it has led to some rather nice trips on boats, sometimes in warm tropical locations. But it has also been 20 years with marine biologist colleagues constantly commenting that dolphin research is not “real marine biology” – even to the extent of having a reviewer say that, in response to a manuscript. Within the marine mammal science professional societies this has led to the rather unfortunate situation where: (a) marine mammalogists keep themselves to themselves with their own journals and conferences and not mixing with many other streams of marine biology; (b) there is such a fear of being seen as “not a real scientist” that within the marine mammal science community there is frequently a stigma against doing any applied, or interdisciplinary, or non-pure science research, including research that is conservation-oriented. This is at a time when such research is drastically needed, with so many cetacean species being endangered. In fact, a study on cetacean science literature determined that about half of the studies could be important to conservation, but unfortunately much of the information lies locked within the ivory tower, and the relatively few ivory towers of marine mammalogists at that.