Sharks aren’t always the top of the food chain

Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksSeptember 3, 2014

Most people think of sharks as being apex predators, large, fearsome  hunters sitting right at the top of the ocean food chain.  Of course, that isn’t always the case. There are more than 500 known species of sharks, and they vary in size from the size of a pencil to the size of a school bus. In many cases, there’s a larger predator in their environment, which can lead to some surprising and amazing  interactions.

A crocodile ate a bull shark

Brutus, a famous crocodile in Australia, was recently photographed eating a juvenile bull shark. Southern Fried Science writer Sarah Keartes has the full story at EarthTouch.

Photo by Andrew Paice

Photo by Andrew Paice

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Marine Conservation, Inspiration and a Great Big Geek

Conservation, marine science

From 14-18th August 2014, the 3rd International Marine Conservation Congress was held in Glasgow, Scotland. The IMCC meetings are the largest international academic conferences on marine conservation. IMCC3 had over 700 presentations ranging from fisheries science to how marine scientists could better interact with the media, from Marine Protected Area effectiveness to the ethical treatment of marine species, from the impacts of oil spills and debris in the marine environment   to how to better use social media and storytelling to communicate marine conservation science to the general public. For a glimpse of some of the topics covered at the meeting and key information and quotes, look for #IMCC3 on Twitter.

I got several requests to post my closing speech – although the number of requests might partly because people wanted to count quite how many geek references I managed to sneak in. There are 13, can you find them all?

The IMCC3 Chair’s Closing Speech

So here we are on the raggedy edge, at the ending of IMCC3, the third one. I’ve received many positive comments about the content of this meeting and I’d like to give you a quote with exemplarizes what people have been saying:

“In my department, I was told not to step out of the ivory tower, that if I wanted to engage with marine conservation more than just doing the science, then I was being a bad scientist. I was made to feel that I was a freak for wanting to do so. But after this meeting I know that I’m not alone. I have a huge community that feels the same way and who are supportive. I feel like I can finally come out of the conservation closet as a scientist”

A famous professor from a nearby academic institution, Albus Dumbledore, once said: “dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when one must choose between what is easy and what is right”; the situation in the oceans is so dire we must now do what is right!

A major theme of this meeting has been… well, conservation, this word does not mean what you think it means. Conservation is very unlikely to happen if you just publish a paper and nothing further. Don’t get me wrong, papers are important – they give vital evidence on which to base good conservation decisions. But, you need to get that science into the right hands, at the right time, in the right format. Some of our community are excellent communicators … so we’ve got that going for us, and that’s nice. But some of us don’t feel so comfortable about putting ourselves out there quite so much.

The good news is though that there are many people who will gladly help you to get your science into the right hands, and minds. “There can be only one” is not the tagline for marine conservation. As Sesame Street would extol… cooperation, and collaboration, is the key.

This meeting has showed that marine conservation scientists are making a difference. It’s important that we remember that scientists can, and have, changed the world. Once upon a time, a Fellow of the Royal Society was frustrated with the inequality of the world and collaborated with a science nerd colleague, who was an eloquent writer, and came up with an idea… which we now call the United States of America.

(Incidentally had the internet existed in Benjamin Franklin’s time he would have had quite an impressive h-index, including highly cited publications on oceanography)

Another one of my favorite sayings coined at this meeting  by the SCB [Society for Conservation Society] Marine Board was “don’t just whine about it, do it!”

This has been most apparent this meeting with the case of the Vaquita,* the Gulf of California harbor porpoise. There are only 97 individuals left of this critically endangered species, with maybe just 25 reproductive females. The science is in for the vaquita, we know what it will take to fix this crisis, it will cost $60million. So yesterday the SCB marine section decided to do something. We didn’t want yet another dolphin to go extinct on our watch. We put in seed money to pay for a fund-raiser/lobbyist to raise that $60million and we challenge other NGOs to match us and contribute.** We can make a difference, this is a species we can save so easily. We can fix this, yes we can! So come on NGOs and governments !  As Yoda says “do or do not, there is no try!”

Time is fleeting and I can’t talk for very much longer, so I would like to finish off with a quote from an undergraduate student who told me last night (admittedly they were somewhat in their cups) “I learnt more about what I want to do with my life these past 4 days than in the last 4 years at my university”.

A key theme for this meeting has indeed, been inspiration and #oceanoptimism***. Scientists can indeed make a difference. So now everyone just go, and walk out that meeting door, take what you’ve learnt from this meeting, and “engage”. ****

*For a truly geeky site with information about the vaquita go to the Vaquitas are Browncoats Facebook site. Another great site is Viva Vaquita who also have a Facebook page.

** Anyone wishing to give a donation to the fund, please send a check to “Society for Conservation Biology” at Society for Conservation Biology, 1017 O St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, USA. Please note that the money is for the Vaquita fund.

*** Another relevant quote from Albus Dumbledore would be that “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” #oceanoptimism.

****So geeky references include: Firefly, Sharknado 2, Harry Potter, the Princess Bride, Caddyshack, Highlander, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, the  Empire Strikes Back, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Star Trek: the Next Generation.

Breaching Blue Chapter 3: In the Heart of the Reef

Popular Culture, Science Fiction

All week I’m posting the first five chapters from my absurd work-in-progress, Breaching Blue. Check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.


The mermaids listened intently as Tornus described the mysterious chamber.

“We have to go inside.” Amphisamytha declared.

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Great white shark movements at Geyser Rock

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

michelleMichelle Wcisel is a Zoologist specialized in predator/prey behaivour and the Scientific Communicator for EDNA Interactive.  She has spent the past 4 years studying the behaviour of white sharks and Cape fur seals at Geyser Rock, ‘Shark Alley’, South Africa.  

 

Animal movement is often shaped by natural barriers; a fish can’t leave the river it swims in, a tortoise is going to struggle to climb a cliff face, and a pangolin can’t swim across the sea.  These barriers come quite naturally to the animals, yet researchers have often struggled to account for these constraints in movement analysis, particularly when it comes to estimating home range (or ‘Utilization Distributions’, UDs).  Unfortunately, the few solutions that have attempted to account for barriers are often incredibly complicated without providing much improvement overall, so previous studies have been forced to simply ‘clip out’ the parts of the estimate that extend over these inconceivable areas (i.e. Heupel et al. 2004; Hammerschlag et al. 2012; Jewell et al. 2012).

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Breaching Blue Chapter 2: Sisters of the Reef

Popular Culture, Science FictionSeptember 2, 2014

breakingblueSo, after thinking about it for the last 24 hours, I’ve decided to release the a chapter of Breaching Blue every day this week. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.


Tornus examined her new home. She had claimed the highest vantage, the last cavern below the sunbreak, so she could watch her sisters moving across the reef. The mountainous coral atoll continued, transecting the sunbreak and climbing into the illuminated ocean. She could see traces of even more caverns extending towards the surface, caverns that opened into the sunlit waters. She felt dizzy, staring up at the radiant corals above. Her eyes prefered the darkness. The reef offered protection, but only so much. The darkness, where she could sense danger as a wave through her body, where her massive eyes could see what others could not,  where she could darken the pigments of her skin until she vanished into the abyssal backdrop, those offered her the greater protection. The fiercest hunters–blackfish, pilot whales, and beast much larger–waited beyond the sunbreak.

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Breaching Blue: Because Mermaids are the new Vampires.

Popular Culture, Science FictionSeptember 1, 2014

breakingblueOriginally posted here: Attack of the paranormal mermaid romance novel: Why you should never, ever lose a bet to David Shiffman, the mermaid novel has taken some surprising turns in the last few months. I recognition, I’ve decided to repost the significantly revised first chapter to entertain. Happy Labor Day, US readers!


They drifted, mindlessly, in an eternal, ocean-spanning arc, bare particles of life, unassuming among the myriad. They drifted, wordlessly, no mouths to speak nor eyes to see. No hands to grasp, not that there was anything to grasp in the great circling gyre. They drifted, aimlessly, their purpose obscured by the haze of their own perception, brains unformed, uninformed ganglia pressing against a translucent carapace. They drifted, ruthlessly, the indomitable walls of baleen sheets, the brutal rasp of gill rakers, the insatiable grasp of dangling tentacles, winnowing their numbers. They drifted, together, a cohort growing stronger even as their siblings fell to the inevitable fate of prey among the flotsam. They drifted until they could drift no more, until their bodies, no longer mindless particles, but tiny facsimiles of their future selves, could challenge the current, assert their dominance over the drift.

No longer drifting, they sought refuge.

***

The reef was old. It rose from the seamount, a honeycomb of chambers stacked one on top of the other. They swam around the perimeter, cautiously. The Ocean was a dangerous place. Who knew what strange predators lurked inside the labyrinthine palace? Janthina went first. She squeezed through a small opening, close to the sea floor. The once generous entrance was overgrown with corals, generation stacked upon generation, each polyp building upon the skeletal remains of its ancestors. Whatever creatures carved this chamber, they abandoned it long ago.

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Throwback Thursday: The Birth of @WhySharksMatter

BloggingAugust 28, 2014

Today we celebrate the 30th birthday of David Shiffman, but the entity known as WhySharksMatter was born on an entirely different day. On January 26, 2009, David officially joined Southern Fried Science and assumed the handle that would soon become the most prolific shark conservation activist online. Here, for posterity, is the original chatlog where we discussed his future handle.

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Shark Week 2014: documentary reviews, tweets, and media coverage

Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Reviews and Interviews, Science, sharksAugust 26, 2014

Another Shark Week has come and gone, and despite being out of the country at the time, I’ve managed to keep up my record of never having missed a single Shark Week documentary. I gotta tell you, though, some of them are really hard to watch. While there there is undoubtedly some great educational programming focusing on science, natural history and conservation, the Discovery Channel is doubling down on the troubling recent trend of blatantly lying to viewers with fake documentaries that use actor playing scientists and CGI video. In a time when public misunderstanding and distrust of science and scientists is already high, the Discovery Channel has decided to actively perpetuate misunderstanding and distrust of science and scientists. I’ve included my reviews (which originally were posted on my Facebook page after each show) of each of the documentaries below, along with a link to the Storify of my twitter reactions and links to some of the media coverage.

Upwell held another successful Sharkinar, bringing together scientists, conservationists, communicators and educators to talk about how “Team Ocean” can best take advantage of the increased public interest in sharks during Shark Week. Indeed, many members of Team Ocean were able to use the temporary increase in public interest in sharks to get important messages out to the media, and I’ve linked to and summarized some of the best examples below, but imagine how much more effective we could be if we didn’t have to first debunk the lies aired on a supposedly educational non-fiction television channel?

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OpenROV is changing the way we think about ocean outreach and citizen science

ConservationAugust 16, 2014

The SS Tahoe, once the only means of travel across Lake Tahoe, lies in 150 meters of icy, alpine water, scuttled after she outlived her usefulness. The remote lake presents an extreme technical challenge for divers and the wreck has spent her afterlife relatively undisturbed. Only a few dive teams have ever visited her.

Naturally, she makes the perfect target to test out the new, deeper-diving OpenROV.

OpenROV from Fallen Leaf Films on Vimeo.

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5 simple things you can do to improve U.S. shark and ray management

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

Sonja Fordham President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham
President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010 based on her two decades of shark conservation experience at  Ocean Conservancy.  She is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society, has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management, and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays.  Her awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.

Most Americans by now must know it’s Shark Week, but did you know that the Discovery Channel headquarters are mere steps from the headquarters of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and that right now — and rather often — fishery managers in that NMFS building are soliciting comments on US shark fishing rules?

Photo by Sonja Fordham

Photo by Sonja Fordham

Shark Week is winding down just as several key opportunities to help US sharks are being announced. Aside from controversy over some programming, other shows, the associated press coverage, and the veritable social media frenzy have sparked a lot of concern for sharks, and sent many Americans on a hunt for things that they can do to help. I welcome that interest and am taking the opportunity to make a plea for some unique, hand-crafted comments and personalized testimony about timely policies for several particularly deserving Atlantic shark and ray species.

Taking these actions won’t be quite as easy as pushing a button on an automatic petition, but I believe – because of the relatively low profile of these species and the increased influence of original comments – that they can truly make a difference. If heeded, your advice can lead not only to better conservation of US shark and ray species, but also to better examples for other countries to follow. Here goes (see the hyperlinks for more information and contact details):

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