Andrew David Thaler • Fleet, Popular Culture, Science Fiction • •
Fleet is a dystopian maritime adventure in which sea level rise and disease has driven the last survivors of the human race to sea. I’m releasing the story in serials — 3 chapters on the first Monday of each month — on Amazon. Loyal readers who can’t wait for the next installment can slate their thirst with a series of short stories set in the world of Fleet that will be published on Southern Fried Science every few weeks. Please enjoy the forth and final of these distractions, The Sea-Above, where we find out how one of my favorite side-characters survives the fire on Gallant and what happened to the sailors who journeyed into the sea-above.
Amberjack was trapped. There was only one way out of the hold and fire raged beyond the bulkheads. Remembering his training, he found a rag to cover his face and, creeping low, felt along the walls until he found a cool spot.
There were no cool spots.
The fire spread through the ship. It blazed on the decks above and the decks below. He was trapped like a chicken in Gill’s diesel stove.
No, he thought to himself, not diesel. Fizzle.
He laughed at his own joke, then choked as the smoke seeped through the sealed hatch. He was roasting! He coughed again. The smoke surrounded him, permeating the hold. His rag reeked of it. He tore it from his face in disgust. He coughed again and again. He couldn’t stop. He wanted to panic, knew he should panic, but he couldn’t. His head was light. His mind felt clear. He began to drift, backwards. The flames reminded him of his great-grandfather, a man who lived for over a century, and a story he would tell the young Amberjack; a story about other ships, their fleets, and the sailors who rode fire into the sky.
“Did you know, Jack, that not every ship sails on the sea?”
David Shiffman • marine science, Natural Science, Science • November 15, 2013 •
One of the many perks of spending lots of time on boats is that you get to overhear some pretty strange radio conversations. The strangest I ever heard took place in the summer of 2002 in the Gulf of Maine, when the captain of a fishing vessel was calling the Coast Guard to report that he was looking at half of a dolphin swimming around. I was shocked, but the Coast Guard radio operator had apparently heard of this, and replied, “No, sir, that’s a mola mola. It’s a fish, and it’s supposed to look like that.” Everyone on the bridge of the sailing vessel I was on laughed.
I hadn’t thought about the idea of “half of a dolphin” for more than 10 years… until last week, when I saw this photo of an animal which had washed up on Folly Beach, South Carolina, only a few miles from where I used to live (and swim). According to marine mammal expert Wayne McFee of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science, this is the second time in recent weeks that half a dolphin has washed up on the shores of South Carolina. Although more than twice the average number of dolphins have stranded in South Carolina this year, seeing two bitten in half ” is an unusual occurrence,” he told me.
Andrew David Thaler • Fleet, Popular Culture, Science Fiction • November 12, 2013 •
We’re approaching the home stretch. Fleet: Horizon, the conclusion to my ongoing science fiction serial novel, premiers on December 2. Each installment features a distinctive cover, featuring one of the ships in the Fleet. The ship on each cover is a real vessel, photographed during one of my many field expeditions. In honor of the completion of Fleet, here are the real stories behind the four vessels featured on the covers.
Fleet: The Reach features the ship that inspired (loosely) NC-3502-WM. The actual vessel is an ocean tugboat that I encountered in Antigua, at the conclusion of JC82/83 — my research cruise to the Mid-Cayman Spreading Center and tag-along cruise to the seas around Montserrat. The noticeably aging vessel was living out its latter years as a pilot boat, delivering pilots to cruise ships and other large vessels so that they could navigate into Antigua’s port.
Maritime Pilots are an old and honored profession. Many ports are dangerous, with local hazards that shift, sometimes as often as the tide. Because of this, large vessel require a local mariner, someone who knows their waterways, to guide ships into port.
David Shiffman • Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks • November 11, 2013 •
In the year 2000, Dr. William Driggers, now of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Mississippi, was sampling for sharks in South Carolina. Dr Driggers recalls that “at the time I was collecting samples from various species of sharks for life history studies and also collecting tissues for Dr. [Joseph] Quattro’s genetics work.” Dr. Quattro, a professor at the Marine Science Program and Department of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, had been working on a project to characterize the population genetics of fish in South Carolina by “working my way down river systems to the coast,” he told me. “Even sturgeons were showing population differentiation, so I thought the next animal would be marine, but estuarine dependent – sharks.” Analysis of the samples Dr. Driggers collected led to a surprising result.
“I was asked “what are the chances that I would misidentify a ‘scalloped hammerhead’ and answered that there was no chance as they are very morphologically distinctive (looks like I was wrong),” Dr. Driggers told me. “I was then informed that genetic sequences indicated that some of the specimens I had labeled as ‘scalloped hammerhead’ were distinctly different from known S. lewini sequences. At Dr. Quattro’s request, I began bringing back whole specimens so they could be archived and morphometric analyses conducted. The first whole specimen that was vouchered and shown to be the new species was collected in Bulls Bay in July of 2001.”
In 2006, Dr. Quattro and his team published a paper entitled “Genetic evidence of cryptic speciation within hammerhead sharks,” showing that there may be a previously-unknown species hiding within scalloped hammerheads. When genetic samples of scalloped hammerheads, great hammerheads, and bonnethead sharks were phylogenetically mapped, the team found an unexpected result. Dr. Quattro, told me that “while doing the population genetics of this animals, we found two divergent genetic lineages within what were morphologically scalloped hammerheads. We gathered sequences and specimens from other known species and didn’t find a match – that’s what got us on the whole cryptic species [defined by Bickford et al. 2007 as "two or more distinct species erroneously classified and hidden under one species name"] thing.”
Kersey Sturdivant • Conservation, ecology, Fun Science Friday, marine science • November 8, 2013
Blinky! The three-eyed crab from the Simpsons.
Photo Credit: Matt Groening
Happy FSF everyone, this week we bring you Blinky! For the Simpsons aficionados amongst you, we are unfortunately not referring to the affable 3-Eyed fish, indicative of the radioactive influence of Springfield’s nuclear power plant.
No Blinky is a real-life, 3-eyed crab, discovered and documented by German researcher Gerhard Scholtz and colleagues while working in New Zealand’s Hoteo River. Scholtz and co stumbled upon this 3-eyed organism, and must have wonder during their cursory inspection if they had discovered a new species, one that was defying the principles of bilateral animals. However, upon closer anatomical inspection Scholtz realized that the mystery crab was not a 3-eyed wonder species, but conjoined twins of the already identified Amarinus lacustris crab species.
David Shiffman • Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks •
In recent years, some of my favorite ocean predators have started to show up in memes. As part of our tradition of using internet humor to educate our readers, I’ve selected the funniest shark memes on the internetz, and I’ve tried to explain what’s going on in the photos used for those memes. I’m happy to discuss these science and conservation issues in the comments if you have any questions, but my selection of what constitutes that funniest shark memes is obviously correct and beyond dispute.
12) Ferocious planktivore is ferocious
Original image source: Flickr user Yohancha.
What’s going on? This shows a basking shark, the second largest shark in the world, with its mouth open wide. While this gaping maw may appear to be menacing, like whale sharks, the basking shark is a strict planktivore.
Guest Writer • marine science, Natural Science, Science •
Antonella Preti, graduated with a degree in Biology specializing in Marine Ecology from the University of Turin, Italy. She is currently attending a long distance Ph.D. program through the School of Biological Sciences of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has been working for 15 years on the feeding ecology of large pelagic species (sharks, swordfish and cetaceans) caught in the California drift gill net fisheries at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. She has co-authored numerous scientific publications and two books, Mako Sharks and Sharks of the Pacific Northwest.
When most people refer to a “once in a lifetime fish” they generally mean a big fish that they fought for a long time that will make an excellent trophy for their mantle or a story for their grandchildren. When marine scientists talk about a “once in a lifetime fish,” we often mean a species that is so rarely seen that we feel lucky to have observed it, even after it has washed up on a beach somewhere. This month we in Southern California have been lucky enough to have one such “once in a lifetime fish” appear twice in a span of a week, as two oarfish washed ashore local beaches. The first, an 18-foot specimen was found on Catalina Island and the second, a 14-foot specimen (approximately 275 pounds), was found in Oceanside, CA. I had the unique opportunity to assist in the necropsy of the second individual at Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in La Jolla, CA. This was an interesting and exciting opportunity to learn more about a species about which little is known as it rarely encountered.
David Shiffman • Conservation, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks, Sustainability • November 7, 2013
In 1999, government officials from all over the world gathered in Rome for a meeting of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s Committee on Fisheries. The Committee meets every two years, but one of the numerous outputs of this meeting was particularly significant, at least for sharks. Based on years of consultation and discussion by experts, the group agreed on a formal set of general principles that should make up sustainable and well-managed shark fisheries.
These 10 principles, part of a larger International Plan of Action for Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) , have helped shape more than a decade of scientific research and management priorities for the chondrichthyan fishes. When properly implemented and enforced, they allow people to use sharks (and rays and skates and chimeras, included in the IPOA-Sharks definition of “sharks”) as a natural resource while keeping populations healthy and allowing depleted stocks to recover.
According to the IPOA-Sharks, a national shark plan should aim to:
Andrew David Thaler • Conservation, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, Science • November 6, 2013
Tube worms and anemones on the Galapagos Rift. Photo Credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer.
Few moments have so profoundly altered our understanding of what it means to be a living thing on Planet Earth as the discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and the organisms that thrive around them. The first vents visited were dominated by Riftia pachyptila, the giant tube worm, whose magnificent ruby plumage parted to reveal an entire community adapted to harness the chemical energy that poured from the vents. It is almost poetic that the first vents were found on the Galapagos Rift; the same tectonic feature contributed to another great, formative moment in biology — the Voyage of the Beagle. Hydrothermal vents provided the first evidence that the sun was not the only source of energy that living organisms could harness. They opened our eyes to the potential of chemosynthesis and hinted at an ocean of unfathomable wonders waiting to be discovered.