Why #DoctorWho needs a science advisor!

UncategorizedNovember 5, 2014

There is probably no one in the science geek/nerd community who has not heard of Doctor Who, even if they can’t recite the names of all 13 actors who have played a regenerating incarnation of the Doctor (I’m including the awesome John Hurt in this list), or don’t own an exceedingly long, multi-colored scarf. Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction TV show in the world (first airing in 1963) and consistently gains peak viewing figures in the UK, and has a substantial number of viewers around the world. It’s the British equivalent of Star Trek, although instead of phasers the Doctor has a sonic screwdriver – which is basically the science/engineering equivalent of a magic wand. Also there is distinctly less snogging of aliens and gratuitous bare-chested scenes in Doctor Who compared to Star Trek.

I’ve watched Doctor Who almost religiously since 1974, and as a youngster owned a complete set of Doctor Who novelizations, decades of annuals and a subscription to the magazine. I’m a dyed in the multi-colored wool Whovian (as fans are called).

(more…)

Why we need ACTIVISTS not WHACKTIVISTS !

Conservation, EnvironmentalismNovember 4, 2014

My lazy Sunday morning was ruined by a “whacktivist” on a friend’s Facebook page on whale and dolphin issues.

To explain what I mean, here are some definitions:

ACTIVIST – someone who tries to draw public attention and concern to an issue they consider to be important. This typically involves trying to convert an uncaring or unaware public into a public that is aware of and likewise concerned about the issue.

Activists are an important part of society. Activists often lead major societal shifts that have changed things for the better. Civil rights and environmental activists were responsible for encouraging ground breaking laws and societal changes in the 1960s and 1970s.

WHACKTIVIST – someone who tries to convert the public into caring about an issue using inappropriate means, such as insulting those who do not agree with them and using arguments that are illogical or factually incorrect. Whacktivists often do not respect the rights of those who are opposed to them – they use bullying, harassing, and threatening violence and other criminal acts. Whacktivists often see issues in black and white and are resistant to opinions and facts that do not fit their world view.

(more…)

A guide to following shark and ray conservation at this week’s Convention on Migratory Species meeting

Blogging, Conservation, Environmentalism

This week, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) will have its 11th Conference of the Parties in Quito, Ecuador. While less well-known than the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES,) CMS is another very important international wildlife conservation treaty. As the name suggests, it focuses on the conservation of species that migrate across national political borders. This meeting includes several  proposals for listing species of sharks and rays on the CMS Appendices. In fact, most of the proposals are for elasmobranchs this time.

CMS

How does CMS work?

Like CITES, CMS allows member states to propose listing of threatened species on different appendices, which have different levels of protection. Appendix I obligates strict protection of that species by member states, where appendix II encourages member states to cooperate in the management of that species through regional or global agreements.  Currently, basking sharks, great white sharks, and oceanic mantas are listed on appendix I, and whale sharks, makos, porbeagles, and northern hemisphere spiny dogfish are listed on Appendix II. There are also non-binding “memoranda of understanding,” such as the 2010 MOU on migratory sharks. As of May of this year, CMS has 120 parties. This paper by Holly Edwards is a good introduction to how it all works.

What exactly does listing do for a species?

The specific actions required to follow up on these listings are basically up to the CMS parties themselves, and the required actions are not particularly clear for Appendix II. Mako sharks were listed on CMS Appendix II in 2008, for example, and they don’t yet have internationally agreed-upon catch limits. Appendix I listings for basking sharks helped lead to European Union fishing prohibitions for these species, though.

Shark and ray conservation proposals

There are a series of shark and ray conservation proposals listed for the CMS 2014 conference of the parties. These include Appendix II listings for hammerhead sharks (great and scalloped), thresher sharks (all three species), and silky sharks, as well as listings on Appendix I and II for reef manta rays, all 9 species of mobula rays, and all species of sawfish. Project AWAREShark Advocates International, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society International, Shark Trust, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have produced some fact sheets and the Pew Environment Group has summaries of each of these proposals except the sawfish ones. The shark and ray proposals are expected to be introduced and debated Thursday morning, but we will likely not know the outcome until next Monday.

How do I follow along?

The main meeting hashtag is #CMSCoP11 (Convention on Migratory Species 11th conference of the parties), but also check out #SharksWithoutBorders and #Time4Action .

Additionally, representatives from variety of environmental non-profits will be attending the conference of the parties and/or tweeting updates. Here is an incomplete list:

(more…)

Progress: It’s now only legal to remove fins at sea for one shark species in the United States

Conservation, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksNovember 3, 2014

Shark finning, the process of removing shark fins at sea and dumping the rest of the body, is nearly universally opposed by conservation activists, scientific researchers and fisheries managers. In addition to being potentially inhumane (the shark is often still alive when dumped overboard,) this processing method is exceptionally wasteful and makes it very difficult for fisheries managers to get accurate species-specific catch data.

There are severals ways to stop shark finning. One is to ban fishing for sharks entirely, fins of sharks can’t be removed at sea if sharks aren’t caught in the first place. It is important to note that some well-intentioned activists  use “stop shark finning” as a synonym for “stop shark fishing of any kind,but that is unequivocally not what shark finning is and not what finning bans accomplish. The second method is through the use of fin to carcass ratios. Under these policies, fisherman can remove the fins of sharks at sea as long as the total weight of fins landed does not exceed a certain percentage (usually 3.5 to 5%) of the total weight of carcasses landed. This can still leave room for some undetected finning (these ratios vary by species and fin removal method) and still makes it difficult for managers to know how many of each species are being caught (sharks are more readily identifiable when their fins are intact). Finally, a method growing in popularity in recent years, which is generally considered to be a best practice of shark fisheries management, is the requirement of landing all caught sharks with “fins naturally attached.”

(more…)

More large sharks were killed by recreational anglers than commercial fishermen in the U.S. last year

Conservation, Core Themes for 2012, Environmentalism, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and ConservationOctober 29, 2014

aThe United States National Marine Fisheries Service just released the 2013 “fisheries of the United States” report. The extremely detailed report contains lots of important information on both recreational and commercial fisheries in U.S. waters, and I recommend giving it a thorough read. I noticed an interesting detail about the U.S. shark fishery, though. In 2013, more large (non-dogfish) sharks were landed by U.S. recreational shark anglers (~4.5 million pounds) than by U.S. commercial shark fishermen (~3 million pounds). This was not the case in 2012.

(more…)

The greater good: animal welfare vs. conservation

Blogging, Conservation, Environmentalism

wrightAndrew Wright is a British marine biologist that has been working on the science-policy boundary around the world for over a decade. His experiences have led him to champion a better communication of science to policy makers and the lay public. His research has included a population viability analysis for the vaquita, sperm whales bioacoustics and the impacts of noise on various marine mammals. Andrew is currently working on several projects, most relating to investigating either sleeping behaviour or chronic stress in wild cetaceans. He is also spearheading efforts to bring more marketing techniques into conservation outreach.

The ever-logical Spock once said “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Then he didn’t. Then he did again. (Thanks J. J. Abrams.)

But I digress.

Regardless of which Spock you are listening to, the logic is still sound. For example, most people would agree that it is sometimes necessary to put a few people in harm’s way to protect the entire population of a nation. Likewise, a system that taxes a few of the world’s wealthiest to help out the masses is generally accepted as a good idea.

The logic also holds when it comes to helping endangered species survive and recover. Decision-makers essentially try to maximise the returns of their investments, making sure that the greatest number of animals are protected for the all-too-limited funds available to take on the task at hand.

(more…)

Building robots in Papua New Guinea: update from #ROV2PNG

geography, marine science, Natural Science, Science, Social ScienceOctober 24, 2014

The view from our morning commute between Nusa and Nago.

The view from our morning commute between Nusa and Nago.

Hello from the warm, sunny island of Nago, home of the National Fisheries College field station and staging ground for Marine Ecology via Remote Observation, part of the Marine Science Short Course. My team and I arrived in Port Morseby on Friday, where we met with Jamie on her way home and and caught up with my former student, now lecturer at UPNG, Freddie Alei, who joins us for the next week of class. Another day of travel brought us to the shores of Nusa Island. We had our first chance to meet the students on Sunday, during a walk around the local beach, followed by an afternoon flying Independent Lee, one of our demonstration robots, from the Fisheries’ jetty. It was a nice warm up for an intensive week of robotics and marine ecology.

There are two major components to the #ROV2PNG portion of the Marine Science Short Course. The first, and most visible, is the construction and operation of the OpenROV, an open-source underwater robot that is incredibly adaptable and expandable. Over the last three days, students have learned how to solder, weld acrylic, test electronics, use epoxy resins, and work together to assemble the chassis, endcaps, battery tubes, motors, and brain of the robot. Excitement is mounting as we approach the moment when we can power up the ROVs for the first time.

(more…)

Wailing about whaling – the 2014 International Whaling Commission meeting

ConservationOctober 17, 2014

???????????????????????????????

A humpback whale in Antarctica (photo credit: Chris Parsons)

 

Earlier this year the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” in Antarctica (the JARPA II research program, to give its official title) was illegal. Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling allows the lethal take of whales for scientific research purposes by “special permit.” The ICJ ruled, however, that the Japanese program was in violation of this provision, because JARPA II was not bona fide scientific research but was instead de facto commercial whaling.

The Japanese Government initially stated that it would abide by the ICJ’s decision and discontinue JARPA II, but then later announced it would conduct a new research program in the Antarctic (JARPA III?). This sudden turnabout was less based on science or market forces than politics, no doubt – sales of whale meat in Japan have been declining and there is currently a warehoused surplus. It may have also been influenced by NGOs (specifically Sea Shepherd) publicly claiming to have “defeated” the Japanese Government and forced them to end the Antarctic hunt (for the record, Sea Shepherd was not involved in the ICJ court case at all, and can claim no responsibility for the outcome). For the fiercely proud and nationalistic Japanese politicians, to have a small NGO – which they have labelled a “terrorist organization” – beat them would be politically untenable.

(more…)

Save the National Ocean Sciences Bowl!

BloggingOctober 15, 2014

nosbThe National Ocean Sciences Bowl is a competition for high school students focused on marine biology, physics and chemistry . Through cooperation between researchers, teachers and community members, NOSB aims to educate students and their families about science and sustainable stewardship of ocean resources. Thousands of the smartest high school students in the United States from hundreds of schools participate each year. Thorough evaluations of the program’s results show that educators and parents who participate as coaches gain leadership and teaching skills,  students who compete further improve their knowledge of science, and everyone involved learns about why the ocean is important. By any measure, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl has been an unqualified success.

Unfortunately, as revealed in a Science News article this week, NOSB’s continued existence is threatened by budget cuts. Some of the regional bowls that provide contestants for the national competition have been cancelled, or are no longer held annually. Cuts are hitting those regional catering to geographic and demographic communities under-represented in the marine sciences particularly hard. “The NOSB is one of the ways we get students from rural Alaska involved in ocean science,” says Dr. Leslie Cornick, chair of the Environmental Sciences department at Alaska Pacific University. “It would be a real blow to the state for it to disappear.”

Many marine scientists credit NOSB with setting them on their current career path. “NOSB made me more passionate about chemistry, oceanography, and geology; whereas before I joined the team I believed biology would be the only science I could ever enjoy,” said Hannah Benton, a marine science major at the College of Charleston. “If we can’t provide these kinds of opportunities for students today then we risk losing future would-be scientists who haven’t yet realized their true passion.”

(more…)

My research and I were the victims of a conservative media attack

marine science, Natural Science, ScienceOctober 14, 2014

Will whiteDr. Will White is an assistant professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.  He uses a combination of lab experiments, field studies, and mathematical models to study fish behavior and population dynamics, in particular how fish populations respond to protection in no-take marine reserves.

My adventure with the news media began on a Friday morning in early October, when I received an unexpected email from Melanie Hunter, a senior editor at CNSNews.com. The terse email mentioned my recent grant on sex-changing fishes, and asked why this was “an effective use of taxpayer funds.” She gave me a deadline of 4 pm that day. Now, usually it’s great when reporters want to cover scientific research, but generally once someone starts asking about “taxpayer funds” it’s because they don’t think those funds are being used wisely. What ended up happening with CNS News (Federal Govt’ Spends $728K to Study Sex-changing Fish”) bore out my suspicions.

I should back up to explain that I do have a federal grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study sex-changing fish. For anyone who has ever applied for an NSF grant, the idea that they are just handing out taxpayer dollars willy-nilly is pretty laughable: the grant selection process is notoriously grueling.  For the division of NSF that funds research in marine biology, only 5-10% of proposals are funded.  Proposals are reviewed by multiple anonymous peer referees, and then a panel comprised of multiple experts in the field convenes to evaluate the proposals based on the peer reviews and identify the best ones for funding.  In fact this was my first successful NSF grant after about five previous proposals were declined.

(more…)

Staff: Andrew David Thaler (963), David Shiffman (462), Amy Freitag (225), Guest Writer (41), Kersey Sturdivant (20), Chuck Bangley (15), Chris Parsons (14), Michelle Jewell (4), Iris (1), Administrator (1), Sarah Keartes (1), Michael Bok (0), Lyndell M. Bade (0)
Connect with SFS
  • Categorical Archives
    Chronological Archives

    Join 173 other subscribers