SciFund challenge background: 6 questions you can answer about shark feeding ecology with stable isotope analysis

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksJanuary 14, 2014

scifundAs many of you have heard, I have a project in the 4th SciFund Challenge, a scientific research crowdfunding organization.  My project, entitled “You are what you eat: non-lethal feeding ecology to help conserve threatened sharks,” is part of my Ph.D. dissertation research. You’ll be hearing a lot more about it over the new few weeks here, on twitter, and on my Facebook page once the challenge officially starts on February 1st. I’d really appreciate your support of my research!

I’ll be using a research technique called stable isotope analysis to study the diet and food web interactions of shark species in Florida. My project (and the research technique) will be briefly explained on my SciFund site, but I wanted to go into more detail about the type of research questions that stable isotope analysis can answer, as well as why this kind of data is significant.

Feeding ecology is important to the conservation and management of sharks.

An emerging trend in marine conservation is “ecosystem based fisheries management”, which means that managers would consider the diet and food web interactions of species of interest. An effective ecosystem-based fisheries management plan would require, among other things, detailed diet and food web interaction data. We can better conserve and protect threatened marine life such as sharks if we better understand their biology and ecology, including what they eat. Over 100 priority research questions for shark conservation were identified in a 2011 research paper (available open access here), and several of these are related to feeding ecology and ecosystem role.

The traditional method for studying the diet of sharks is called stomach content analysis, which typically involves cutting open the stomach of a shark to examine what is inside. Southern Fried Science writer Chuck used a non-lethal alternative that involved pumping the sharks’ stomachs, but that is far less commonly performed. While direct and effective, this kind of lethal sampling research may not be appropriate for certain threatened species of sharks. Stable isotope analysis, which requires only a small tissue sample, can be performed non-lethally.

Stable isotope analysis background information


Public passion for shark finning bans is great. How do we channel it towards other issues?

Conservation, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksJanuary 9, 2014

A recent proposal in New Zealand to outlaw shark finning received more than 45,000 public comments from all over the world, a staggering amount of public interest in fisheries policy. This is great news, because though many activists don’t really know what it means, shark finning is a major threat. Shark finning may well be the most brutal and wasteful method of gathering food in the history of human civilization, and  New Zealand was one of the few developed nations that still legally allowed any form of  the practice. Though there are still some significant issues with New Zealand’s proposal, it was  still very exciting to see so much public passion for an issue that few cared about, or even knew about, when I was growing up.

However, a finning ban is merely a first step, for the most part only controlling how sharks are killed, not how many are killed. A recent study showed that finning bans alone were insufficient to ensure sustainable fisheries. In many nations (including the United States), the interested public has a role to play in implementing all or most of the next steps a comprehensive sustainable fisheries policy for sharks and other fishes. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen anywhere near the same level of public engagement in other shark conservation issues as we see for big, flashy issues like bans on finning.


Are you Prepared for the end of the world? An excerpt from my latest novella

Fleet, Popular Culture, Science FictionJanuary 8, 2014

preparedPrepared: A novella from the world of Fleet went live in the Amazon Kindle store this afternoon. This short story expands on the world the we first encountered in Fleet, where sea level rise and global pandemic have reduced human civilization to a few scattered enclaves. In Prepared, we are taken to the beginning of the end, the fall of the last major coast metropolis, where a small group of doomsday preppers are making their final stand.

You can find Prepared on Amazon and at Smashwords. Nook, iBook, and other editions are coming.

Excerpted below is chapter 1: Bug Out.


Debunking Fukushima: Your Radiation Roundup

Blogging, Science

Fukushima continues to dominate the ocean news cycle, and while no one is denying that it is a real and ongoing tragedy, the woo is strong in the Fukushima fear-mongering community. Fortunately, the scientists are out in force, debunking the bunk and cutting through the crap to keep you informed. Here is a handy collection of detailed links, from trusted source, tackling some of the most egregious pseudoscience coming out of Fukushima.

Southern Fried Science

Deep Sea News


If you know of any other good articles debunking Fukushima fear-mongering, please leave them in the comments below.

If you feel the need to accuse any of the authors above of being shills for Big Nuclear, The Government, any Secret Board of Shadowy Figures, Tepco, or any combination thereof, I have an experiment for you: This website is ad free and run entirely by volunteers. Head on over the our “Support Southern Fried Science Page” and make a donation help to keep us running. Maybe, if you donate enough, we’ll start shilling for you (disclaimer: we won’t, but we will continue to produce high quality marine science and conservation articles from a diversity of voices).


New Month, New Header Image

BloggingJanuary 7, 2014

This month we’re featuring Spot Prawn, by Lee Stevens. You can follow Lee on twitter @least_evens!


If you would like to see you marine science and conservation themed image featured on Southern Fried Science, you can find more information here.

First Bluefin Tuna sells for $70,000 at Tsukiji Fish Auction (UPDATED)

ConservationJanuary 4, 2014

Update: The blog Food, Sake, Tokyo has the numbers for this year’s auction. Perhaps most interesting, per kilogram the first tuna of the year wasn’t the most expensive fish. A 168-kg fish sold for $382 per kilo (~$64,000 total) compared to $305 per kg for the first fish of the year.

In an unexpected turn, the first Bluefin Tuna auctioned at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, sold for approximately $70,000, a dramatic drop from the record breaking $1.8 million. The buyer, Kiyoshi Kimura, is the same man who won the auction in 2011, 2012, and 2013. This is a radical change from previous years and may symbolize a shift back to actual market value, rather than “auction-as-performance” to drive up the demand for Bluefin Tuna.

It should be noted that even the $70,000 price tag is unaccountably high. The price for Bluefin Tuna in Japan peaked at $34 per kilogram in 1990 and has been in decline (with occasional fluctuations) since. At that price, a 350 kilogram fish would only sell for ~$12,000. This year’s first fish appears to have weighed 230 kilograms.

Fun Science Friday – BP Oil Spill Impacts Dolphins

biology, ecology, Fun Science Friday, policy, toxicologyJanuary 3, 2014

Happy Fun Science Friday!

Though this post does not present such a happy story, given the recent discussion about dolphin photobombing, this week’s FSF is topically related.  In the spring of 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig experienced catastrophic failure resulting in the worst oil spill in human history. The Gulf of Mexico (GoM) was the unfortunate host of this catastrophe and the GoM community is still feeling the ecological, social, and economic consequences of this disaster.

Pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming underneath oily water of Chandeleur Sound, La., May 6, 2010. Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Pod of bottlenose dolphins swimming underneath oily water of Chandeleur Sound, La., May 6, 2010.
Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

One such impact that received little TV coverage during the spill was the uncharacteristic spike in dolphin deaths. A few months following the BP spill there was an unprecedented spike in dead dolphins washing ashore along the Gulf Coast; 67 dead dolphins by February of 2011, with more than half (35) of the dead dolphins being calves. This is in stark contrast to years preceding the spill when one or two dead dolphins per year were normally documented to wash ashore.  Despite the spike in dolphin deaths, there was no definitive evidence linking the dead cetaceans to the oil spill as a number of other factors could have been responsible for the deaths, including infectious disease or the abnormally cold winter proceeding the spill.


3 sharks that were on twitter before being a shark on twitter was cool

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

Recent plans in Western Australia to place acoustic tags in sharks and have them tweet their location when they approach a beach have resulted in a sharknado of media coverage. The plan has been covered by internet technology news giant Mashable, Fox News, NPR news, Popular Science, and NBC news (which, with “sharks with frickin’ tweets,” has what I believe to be the best headline. That one also interviews me.) When a tagged shark approaches the beach, a tweet like this results:



I can understand why a project involving both sharks and twitter caught the media’s eye… and why about a billion of you e-mailed or tweeted the news to me. However, these aren’t the first sharks to be on twitter!


The ups and downs of 2013 shark conservation policy, and a forecast for the new year

UncategorizedJanuary 1, 2014

Sonja Fordham President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham
President, Shark Advocates International

SAISonja 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.

It’s been another exciting year in shark and ray conservation policy!  Once again, there’s a lot to herald, quite a bit to regret, and much work yet to be done.  Here’s my take on the year’s high and low points as well as a preview of key opportunities in 2014.  This post obviously reflects my perspective, and is therefore focused on science-based limits on shark and ray fishing and trade.  While the work has sometimes been exhausting, and this review is quite long, the scope is by no means exhaustive.


Southern Fried Science Year-in-Review

BloggingDecember 31, 2013

2013 starter with a bang. More specifically, it started with a Bang! Zop! Pow! when I published Five organisms with real super powers that rival their comic book counterparts, a post that set the tenor of my writing style for the rest of the year. The ongoing posts in “Andrew makes lists of ridiculous organisms with tenuous pop-culture connections” have been among the most widely read articles on Southern Fried Science.

David followed suit with his delightfully perverse 50 Shades of Grey Reef Shark: A Valentine’s Day Special Report on Shark Sex (With Pictures! And Video!). Amy kicked of the SFS Department of Human Dimensions in Fisheries Management with Know Your Fishermen as well as your Farmer to which Chuck adds – Fishermen Are Not Evil in his inaugural post. Iris taught us all about Issues facing Puget Sound Chinook salmon in her first post as well.


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