Polar bear feast on seabird eggs is reason we can’t have nice things

climate change, Conservation, Ethical Debates, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and ConservationSeptember 29, 2015

Several images circulate on the internet that capture the plight of rapid Arctic climate change, a phenomenon known as Arctic amplification.  This image, for me, is the most alarming:


Keeping your robot invasions under control.

Conservation, Education, ScienceSeptember 28, 2015

It’s been a big week for papers here at Southern Fried Science. This morning, Amy, myself, William (of Bomai Cruz fame), and Dominik and Erika of OpenROV published our guidelines on minimizing the potential for microROVs to act as invasive species vectors in Tropical Conservation Science. The abstract:

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) present a potential risk for the transmission of invasive species. This is particularly the case for small, low-cost microROVs that can be easily transported among ecosystems and, if not properly cleaned and treated, may introduce novel species into new regions. Here we present a set of 5 best-practice guidelines to reduce the risk of marine invasive species introduction for microROV operators. These guidelines include: educating ROV users about the causes and potential harm of species invasion; visually inspecting ROVs prior to and at the conclusion of each dive; rinsing ROVs in sterile freshwater following each dive; washing ROVs in a mild bleach (or other sanitizing agent) solution before moving between discrete geographic regions or ecosystems; and minimizing transport between ecosystems. We also provide a checklist that microROV users can incorporate into their pre- and post-dive maintenance

Read the whole, open-access paper over at TCS!

Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing transmission of invasive species via observation-class ROVs.

Combating fake science in popular media – six months later


As noted earlier, David and my paper on twitter, social media, Shark Week, and fake documentaries came out last week. Since scientific publishing has a “long tail” — the time between when we actually wrote the paper and when it was published, in this case, was almost 9 months — we thought it might be a useful exercise to discuss our paper in the context of the months leading up to and following the most recent Shark Week. Enjoy!

You can find the original paper here: Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media.

Congressional Republicans hold Ocean Science Hostage Over Failed Anti-health Care Bill

ConservationSeptember 25, 2015

All summer and into the fall, Congressional Republicans have been attempting to pass a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides critical health care needs to women across the country. After the latest bill failed, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to put forth a “clean bill” that would avoid an October government shutdown. With news breaking today that Speaker John Boehner will quit his post at the end of October and fresh predictions the the shutdown is now unlikely, you might think that this recent quixotic quest has foundered, at least for the moment.

You would be wrong.

S.764 is originally An Act to reauthorize and amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act, and for other purposes. This was the bill that authorized funding for the National SeaGrant program, one of the flagship marine science, conservation, and fisheries agencies in the United States. Funding for Sea Grant is a truly bipartisan issue. Both sides see the value in continuing this support for ocean issues. How bipartisan? In an era of increasingly schismatic politics, the SeaGrant reauthorization bill passed the senate with unanimous support. 

If you wanted to read S.764 today, however, you would be met with this:

Resolved, That the bill from the Senate (S. 764) entitled “An Act to reauthorize and amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act, and for other purposes.”, do pass with the following Amendment: This Act may be cited as theDefund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015



Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media

#SciCommSeptember 23, 2015

Yesterday, after months of waiting, David and my magnum opus on our efforts to stem the tide of fake documentaries was, at last, made available online: Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media.

What role should scientist play in correcting bad science, fake science, and pseudoscience presented in popular media? Here, we present a case study based on fake documentaries and discuss effective social media strategies for scientists who want to engage with the public on issues of bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science. We identify two tracks that scientists can use to maximize the broad dissemination of corrective and educational content: that of an audience builder or an expert resource. Finally, we suggests that scientists familiarize themselves with common sources of misinformation within their field, so that they can be better able to respond quickly when factually inaccurate content begins to spread.

The entire paper is published open access and written for a non-specialist audience. Please read, share, and enjoy.

This, incidentally, is the first of two papers this year that were funded, in part, through contributions from my Patreon patrons. To those who have contributed, an extra special Thank You!

Are you suffering from FOBLAB?

Life in the Lab, Science Life, Social Science, UncategorizedSeptember 22, 2015

Warning: The following blog post contains some language that is NSWF. 

You are sat at a table of professionals within your field and they are discussing a topic you are very experienced with.  The group keeps mentioning common beginner errors that you could easily correct, but you don’t.  You sit quietly and sip your coffee.


A Natural History of the Starwhale

Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science, Science FictionSeptember 21, 2015


Space Whale, by OvitaN – http://ovitan.deviantart.com/art/Space-Whale-504456863

Whales, those magnificent leviathans of the deep, have an uncanny knack for ending up in space. Science fiction is flooded with stories of starwhales–sometimes entirely new creatures that happen to resemble terran cetaceans in either behavior or appearance, sometimes evolved leviathans from our own world, and occasionally hapless, confused, ordinary whales. This is no fluke. Space is big, whales are big, so why shouldn’t there be whales in space?

Science fiction loves its tropes, and particularly loves comparing space to the golden age of maritime exploration, to the point where starships sometimes have sails. And then, of course, there’s The Narrative. You know, the one where a captain is consumed by obsession and revenge to hunt some semi-mythical mcguffin. If you’re going to do Moby-Dick-in-Space, you better have a starwhale. SciFi loves the Moby Schtick.

Starship UK, from Doctor Who.

Starship UK, from Doctor Who.

So what is a starwhale, and why is it different from other giant space creatures like the exogorth of Empire Strikes Back? Like terran whales, star whales are intelligent creatures that often exhibit some form of emotion. Unlike other space monsters, they often act with a purpose that goes beyond “eat space people, wreck ship”. Nowhere is this more clearly highlighted than in the Doctor Who episode The Beast Below, in which the Doctor encounters the last living starwhale, now supporting the remnants of the British Empire on its back. In the story, the whale endures tremendous suffering in order to protect ‘the children’, and chooses to stay even after being freed from its captors.

Giant whales providing the backbone for mysterious islands traces its roots back to the ancient Greeks, at least in the Western canon. Aspidochelon was a sea monster said to resemble either a turtle or a whale, with a craggy back the carried sandy beaches and sometimes even trees and jungles. Sailors who wandered ashore would find their ships crushed as they were pulled down into the deep. Later incarnations of the whale-as-island made explicit its connection to Satan, the ultimate deceiver. And, of course, Herman Melville makes explicit the modern civilization rests on the back, or, more accurately, the oil, of the whale.

Interestingly, starwhales are, at worst chaotic neutral, but more often lawful good. Their connection to the devil abandoned back on Earth.

The Star Trek universe is resplendent with starwhales, from numerous Enterprises have encountered numerous starwhales, from benign travelers passing through to confused infants looking to the ship for survival, to aggressive bulls threatened by incursion into their territory. Bull sperm whales were documented by early Earth whalers as solitary, especially aggressive male whales, some of which had tasted the bite of many harpoons and continued to charge. It was a bull sperm whale the sunk the Essex, the inspiration for Moby Dick. (more…)

Got grants? New small grants for marine conservation launched by SCB Marine

ConservationSeptember 17, 2015

The Society for Conservation Biology Marine Section (SCB Marine) has just  initiated their Conservation Small Grants Program (CSGP) to fund worthy conservation projects around the globe.

Society for Conservation Biology - Marine Section's photo.

The grants will vary from $500-$700 and priority is being given to individuals from developing countries and those working in developing countries, where projects a small amount of money could make a big difference. The application form is short and simple and some suggested activities that describe the sort of projects that could be funded include:

providing materials to train local residents to reduce impacts of human activities on marine animals and their habitats;

developing educational materials or equipment for teaching fishers to reduce bycatch;

surveys of previously un-surveyed areas to evaluate status and conservation of marine organisms or habitats.

 What is particularly nice is the efforts that have been made to make the application process accessible to all marine scientists with large type, translated and even braille versions of the application material being available.
So if you have a developing country project where $500 would make a big difference, do think about applying, or forward the details to a colleague for whom this grant might be helpful !

Applications now open for the Elasmobranch Society’s new diversity in marine science initiative

marine science, Natural Science, ScienceSeptember 16, 2015

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world's oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world’s oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s oldest and largest professional society focusing on the scientific study and management of sharks and their relatives, is now welcoming applications for the Young Professional Recruitment Fund, our new diversity initiative. Awardees will be given one year of Society membership, in addition to specialized professional development training, mentorship, and networking opportunities specific to their needs as international or historically underrepresented minority scientists and professionals.

To be eligible for the Young Professional Recruitment Fund, applicants must fill out the application below and demonstrate that they:


Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: The OpenROV Trident

Citizen Science, Education, ScienceSeptember 14, 2015

The future of ocean exploration is here.

OpenROV Trident – An Underwater Drone for Everyone by OpenROV

I’ve been watching, exploring, and working with the folks at OpenROV since their last Kickstarter, way back in 2012. Today they announce the launch of Trident, the next generation underwater vehicle, and one of the most capable microROVs that I’ve ever seen. I had the rare pleasure to join them in Lake Tahoe this May to test fly one of the earliest prototypes, and it surpassed all of my expectations.

You don’t need to hear me sing the praises of one of the most important emergent technologies in marine science and conservation. The rise of affordable, capable, portable underwater robots will fundamentally change the way we think about exploring the ocean and monitoring ocean health.

Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter criteria!

1. Is it sound, reasonable, and informed by science? You bet. OpenROV have been building underwater vehicles for upwards of four years. I use their robots in my research and education programs. The first peer-reviewed publication using OpenROV as a research platform will be coming out at the end of the month.  (more…)

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