Guest Writer • Blogging • August 14, 2014
Vicky Vásquez is a Moss Landing Marine Labs graduate student under the Pacific Shark Research Center. Her Master’s thesis focuses on the soupfin shark population of San Francisco Bay. Before beginning her graduate program, Vicky worked in marine education for over 7 years with groups like the Ocean Discovery Institute and the Marine Science Institute. This work has fostered Vicky’s passion in outreach education with a special interest in working with at-risk students and under-served communities. She has continued this work as the founding Deputy Director of a new non-profit in San Francisco Bay, the Ocean Research Foundation (ORF). You can follow Vicky on Twitter @VickyV_TeamORF and get updates about ORF through their Facebook Page.
Was anybody else bothered by Shark Week’s King of Summer campaign? I wasn’t at first. I thought it was hilarious! I found this light-hearted commercial of a guy riding two sharks to be on par with the ridiculousness of SyFy shark movies like Sharknado or Ghost Shark. It’s just too silly to take seriously. More so, I was just relieved they finally moved away from their Snuffy the Seal theme which vilified and eventually killed a shark for eating its natural prey of seal. However, after watching the subsequent versions which include Bob the Shark and Rob Lowe, I couldn’t help but get a annoyed. What is with that freaking mermaid?!
So men are kings and women are mermaids?
Perhaps some of you may think I’m spoiling the fun of Shark Week by bringing this up, but the Be the King of Summer promotion reflects my point. People were asked to insert their own faces into this add. Although women did participate, they most commonly posted their faces as the mermaid at the King’s knees. I understand that this is all in good fun and obviously those women did too. However, very similar to this mermaid persona, is the growing number of women whose shark conservation work has been recognized for their sole approach of being sexy while swimming with large sharks. Despite that sounding like a jab against them, it really is not. My concern is that there is an equal number, if not more, women who are protecting sharks through research. For instance, there were 60 female scientists that presented research at the 2014 Sharks International Conference. Nevertheless, Shark Week predominantly features white male hosts and researchers despite the slowly growing number of women (as well as people of color) in the science and engineering fields. I therefore can’t help but wonder, where are they on TV?
Andrew David Thaler • Blogging • August 12, 2014
It’s no secret that we’ve produced quite a bit of critical commentary regarding Discovery Communications (whose properties include Shark Week, Animal Planet, TLC, and many others) over the years. This Shark Week, we’re seeing a massive spike in interest around their less-than-factual productions. Here, for your convenience, is a quick roundup of articles we’ve written about misleading, deceptive, and dangerous shows produced by Discovery Communications.
The Big Three:
David Shiffman • Conservation, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science • August 11, 2014
A giant pangasius, one of the Endangered species of fish that is targeted by trophy fishermen. Photo by user GV_Fishing, WikiMedia Commons
Andrew and I (along with several co-authors) have a new paper out in the journal Marine Policy entitled “Trophy Fishing for Species Threatened with Extinction: A way Forward Based on a History of Conservation.” You can read the paper here, and view the official press release here (will be up soon) .
We believe that this is an important topic that does not get enough attention, and we wrote the paper to review the scope of the problem, propose an easily achievable solution, and facilitate a long overdue discussion. Although we intentionally wrote the paper to be accessible to anyone, this blog post serves to explain the concepts and issues in the paper even further. We are happy to answer any questions people have about the paper, just ask them in the comments section below.
Guest Writer • Popular Culture, Science • August 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 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…)
Chuck Bangley • Conservation, fisheries, Focus on Nuance, sharks, Sustainability, Underrepresented Issues in Marine Science and Conservation • August 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.
David Shiffman • Blogging, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science, sharks • August 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.
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 Show. Hundreds 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 Magazine, USA Today, National Geographic, the Huffington Post, Gawker Business Insider, the International Business Times, Discover Magazine, the Oregonian, the Examiner, Entertainment Weekly, the Mary Sue, the Inquisitr, and US Weekly. Depending on your political leanings, you can even get the same story from Fox News, Brietbart, and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Even the Wikipedia article notes that it is completely fictional.
Chris Parsons • Blogging, Life in the Lab, Science •
Dr. 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.
Kersey Sturdivant • Natural Science, Science, Uncategorized • August 1, 2014
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.
Skin ulcer on the hand due to leishmaniasis. (Photo credit: CDC Dr. S. Martin)
Amy Freitag • Challenging the Conventional Narrative, Focus on Nuance, Uncategorized • July 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…)
Andrew David Thaler • Blogging • July 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.