Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine is a fake documentary

Popular Culture, ScienceAugust 10, 2014

Shark Week has done it again with their Shark of Darkness nonsense.  This show goes after everyone, from the whale watching industry, to shark cage diving, to South Africa as a country, and literally broke my heart to watch.

As always, a brief and vague disclaimer appears after all the credits have rolled.

As always, a brief and vague disclaimer appears during the show.

The fake-u-mentary is supposedly based in Hout Bay, but continually shows a map of Dyer Island and Geyser Rock and refers to Shark Alley that are all in Gansbaai, ~100km to the east.  So why would they say Hout Bay?  If you google “boat capsized in Hout Bay”, you will find that there was a boat which capsized outside of Hout Bay in 2012, killing 2 passengers onboard.  This boat was capsized by heavy swell in the middle of the day and had nothing to do with a shark, let alone a mythical one.  So I can only assume that Discovery Channel chose to include this very real tragedy in order to somehow legitimize their fake-u-mentary.  This is horribly insensitive. (more…)

Fin-Body Ratios for Smooth Dogfish – Depends on How You Slice It

Conservation, fisheries, Focus on Nuance, sharks, Sustainability, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and ConservationAugust 8, 2014

The 2010 Shark Conservation Act prohibits removal of fins at sea for all sharks landed in U.S. Waters, with a glaring exception for smooth dogfish, or smoothhound sharks.  In an effort to ensure that fishermen aren’t performing the cruel practice of throwing a still-living but finless shark overboard, a fin:body ratio of 12% for smooth dogfish became law as part of this bill.  This means that the total weight of smooth dogfish fins cannot be more than 12% of the total dressed weight of the bodies when the sharks are landed.

Some time ago I wrote a post questioning where this 12% ratio came from, especially since the best available published literature at the time suggested a ratio of only 3.5% for smooth dogfish.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Management Commission (ASMFC) responded, claiming that they had data backing up a find:body weight ratio of 7-12%.  Now, thanks to the SEDAR stock assessment workshop for this species, the study conducted by the ASMFC is publicly available (albeit nearly four years after it was written into the law).

So where does this seemingly extremely high fin:body ratio come from?  It depends on how you slice it.

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Megalodon: the New Evidence is a fake documentary

Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science, sharksAugust 7, 2014

So was last year’s “Megalodon: the monster shark lives.”  Both Shark Week specials claim to show evidence that Carcharocles megalodon, the largest predatory shark that ever lived, is still alive. In both cases, the evidence is 100% completely and totally fake.

disclaimer

A disclaimer from “the monster shark lives”

Video evidence is CGI, images are photoshopped, and performances by actors claiming to be scientists and people who have seen a megalodon.  There is no marine biologist named Collin Drake, he is a fictional character played by an actor. The boat that a megalodon supposedly ate in South Africa did not ever exist. There is no doubt whatsoever among scientists that megalodon is extinct and has been for millions of years.

The documentary was debunked by fact-checking site Snopes, and criticized by CNN (an interview with me),  Forbes magazine,   and even the Daily ShowHundreds of other news articles* all tell the same story. Megalodon is extinct, and Shark Week made up evidence to the contrary for ratings. Worst of all, they have actively bragged about fooling people.


*A sampling of some of the many other articles criticizing Shark Week and the Discovery Channel for airing a fake documentary include Time MagazineUSA Today, National Geographicthe Huffington Post, Gawker  Business Insiderthe International Business TimesDiscover Magazine, the Oregonian, the ExaminerEntertainment Weekly, the Mary Sue, the Inquisitr, and US Weekly. Depending on your political leanings, you can even get the same story from Fox NewsBrietbart, and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Even the Wikipedia article notes that it is completely fictional.

The Dark Side of Academia

Blogging, Life in the Lab, Science

ParsonsDr. 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.

Listen, my Sith apprentice, strong in knowledge you are but there are those who are stronger and more intelligent than you, but to persevere and gain in status, strong in the dark side you must become. In these times funding is limited, tenured positions are few, and competition is great. Graduate students are many, and many of these have ideas for new research and new hypotheses that pose a threat to the current order. The hierarchy must be maintained with us at the apex, and no competition must be allowed.  Nurturing, cooperation, and egalitarianism -those are the characteristics of the light side and the light side is weak, and progress on the light side is slow. So my Sith apprentice, here is my advice to you to progress and succeed, especially when there are those around you who are more innovative, knowledgeable and intelligent than you.
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Fun Science FRIEDay – One microbial trash is another’s microbial treasure!

Natural Science, Science, UncategorizedAugust 1, 2014

Happy FSF!

You know that old saying, the one that explains how something devalued by one person is of the utmost value to another.

Well this week we bring you an analogy of that quote in nature, and in the form of microbes.

Leishmaniasis… have you heard of it? If not, do not worry, I had not either before I began writing this piece, and subsequently almost gagged while googling “appropriate” photos to accompany this piece.  Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Leishmana. The vector that spreads this wonderful treasure? Sand flies. If you are unfortunate enough to get this disease it can turn your skin into all manner of foul lookingness. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A

Skin ulcer on the hand due to leishmaniasis. (Photo credit: CDC Dr. S. Martin)

Skin ulcer on the hand due to leishmaniasis. (Photo credit: CDC Dr. S. Martin)

(more…)

Connecting the Town and Gown: Cooperative Extension

Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Focus on Nuance, UncategorizedJuly 31, 2014

Over the last few months, I’ve seen a few efforts proposed to better connect universities to local community research needs. While whole practices and skill sets around participatory action research, community-based research, etc., exist, these don’t quite meet the need these recent proposals attempt to address. These proposals are not talking one faculty research program implementing participatory methods, they want a fundamentally different relationship between researchers and the community surrounding them – which, in many ways, gets back to the roots of many universities in the United States: land-grant universities.

In 1862 and 1890, the Morrill Acts granted land to create universities to focus on practical education: agriculture, science, military, and engineering. Students and faculty research from these institutions, in return, would advance important industries and changing social class relations. The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 later extended the mission of these schools to extend the research results to users – creating the cooperative extension system. In short, science in service of society. (more…)

About those lionfish

BloggingJuly 28, 2014

We’ve been monitoring the situation surrounding a south Florida lionfish study that’s been blowing up the headlines thanks to a feel-good story about a young student’s science fair project and a subsequent controversy surrounding a former grad student who feels slighted for having his name left out of the research. We decided not to comment on it while the story unfolded and wove its way through a dozen twist and turns.

Rather than rehashing events now, I point you to Spiny media battle highlights importance of scientific credit by Bethany Brookshire and If a 12-year-old’s “breakthrough” sounds too good to be true… by Tara Haelle as the most comprehensive and authoritative dissections of this unfortunate chain of events.

Busting Ocean Myths: This anglerfish is not as kink as you think.

deep sea, ecology, marine science, Natural Science, Science

The claim: Deep-sea Anglerfish have parasitic dwarf males that fuse to their mates and become nothing more than wibbly gonads hanging off of the much larger female. 

Who said it: Well, pretty much everyone. This Oatmeal Comic, Ze Frankme.

Status: Sometimes true, sometimes false.

Melanocetus johnsonii. Photo by Edith Widder.

Melanocetus johnsonii. Photo by Edith Widder.

cover-Time-19950814-82066I’d like you to meet a very dear friend of mine. This is Melanocetus johnsonii, the humpback anglerfish. If you follow the deep sea at all, you’ve probably met this delightful creature. She was featured on the cover of time magazine, barely losing out to Newt Gingrich for 1995 Vertebrate of the Year. Since then, she has been a standard-bearer for the deep sea, an iconic species, immediately recognizable. Stories of her exploits abound, and no story is more compelling that the tale of the hapless male anglerfish, a parasitic dwarf that lives its entire adult life fused to the larger, more capable female angler fish.

There’s just one problem.

Melanocetus johnsonii, along with the four other anglerfish that make up genus Melanocetus, don’t have parasitic males. Males of this genus are still significantly smaller and lack lures, but they retain their free-swimming lifestyle into adulthood, occasionally biting into the side of a much larger female for a temporary coupling, where gametes and food are exchanged. This temporary coupling, in which no tissue fusion takes place, has been observed only three times: once during the filming of the BBC Blue Planet documentary; once off the coast of Japan; and once, confusingly between a male Melanocetus johnsonii and a completely different species, Centrophryne spinulosa. In none of these instances was the connection permanent, and no reduced males have even been found attached to a Melanocetus. (more…)

Busting Ocean Myths: How many containers are really lost at sea?

Focus on NuanceJuly 27, 2014

The Claim: 10,000 containers are lost at sea every year.

Who said it: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Slashdot, Yahoo News, NOAA, me, and many others.

Status: False.

10,000 is one of those numbers that’s big enough to be surprising, but not so huge to inspire immediate incredulity. The worldwide shipping industry is enormous and containers do get lost overboard. With a few recent high-profile maritime accidents, it’s not hard to believe that 10,000 containers could be sent to swim with the fishes every year.

The MOL Comfort breaks its back. Image via gCaptain.

The MOL Comfort breaks its back. Image via gCaptain.

Fortunately, it’s pretty hard to hide a missing container and the number of containers lost at sea is actually much lower than 10,000. In 2011 and 2014, the World Shipping Council surveyed it’s members to find out exactly how many containers are lost at sea each year. What they found was that not only was the number of lost containers an order of magnitude less than the 10,000 figure, but that the average was driven up by two catastrophic accidents–the sinking of the MOL Comfort and the grounding of the MV Rena.

(more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – All About the Benjamins Baby!

UncategorizedJuly 25, 2014

To quote the Notorious BIG, “It’s all about the Benjamins, BABY!”

That quote unfortunately holds true in many walks of life, and is especially applicable to this weeks FSF where Dr. Costanza, from Australian National University, and a number of colleagues puts a price tag on the world’s natural environment. Some of you are probably thinking, “Dude, that’s old news!”  In summary, yes, this is old news.. sorta.

(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

(Photo credit: dreamstime.com)

(more…)

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