The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover: Episode 2

Aquaman, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, ScienceMay 6, 2014

Welcome back to another exciting installment of the incredible biodiversity of this incredible Aquaman cover. Today we’re investigating species 4 through 6, where we’ll meet one of my favorite mid-water fish.


fangtooth4. Fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta)

With the largest tooth-length-to-body ratio of any fish, the fangtooth has earned its menacing name. Unfortunately, this intimidating creature barely reaches 18 centimeters in length, hardly the massive, Batman-swallowing maw illustrated to the right. Fangtooths are among the deepest swimming fish. They can be found as far as 5000 meters down, though they are more common in the midwater (200-2000 meters). (more…)

The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover

Aquaman, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, Popular Culture, Science, sharksMay 5, 2014

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman. Wow. Artist Mike Allred has seriously outdone himself with this incredible variant cover to Aquaman #31, featuring a 75th anniversary tribute to Batman as well as an incredible pastel array of deep-sea creatures. What truly amazing about this cover is that each one of these animals is a real living denizen of the deep right here, on Earth Prime. Sure, the scale might be a little off, and it’s unlikely that a scale worm could swallow a Bat-thyscaph, but the salient details are uncanny. Join me on a tour of the 18 wonderful animals featured on this sure-to-be epic installment of Aquaman’s ocean-spanning adventures. Today we’re looking at the first three, including one of my all time favorite marine organisms. (more…)

Florida fisherman catches an 18 foot goblin shark, the second ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico

Blogging, deep sea, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksMay 2, 2014

Last week, commercial fisherman Carl Moore was fishing for royal red shrimp off the coast of Key West Florida.  When he pulled up a net from more than 2,000 feet, Moore had caught something other than just shrimp. In his net was an unusual looking enormous fish—a goblin shark more than 18 feet long. As Moore reported to the NOAA scientist he reported his catch to, “it was uglier than a mother-in-law.”

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

This rare species of shark has only been seen in the Gulf of Mexico once before, in 2002. Though goblin sharks have been occasionally caught in the Atlantic and Indian ocean and a large group was caught in Taiwan following an undersea earthquake, most specimens have been found in the deep water canyons surrounding Japan. They are occasionally caught as bycatch in deep sea fisheries, as happened with Carl Moore. Unlike many species of shark, “they don’t have any commercial value, other than their jaws,” says Charlott Stenberg, a marine biologist and science writer. “But, I have a Japanese friend who ate some of it and thought the tongue was delicious”

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

Goblin sharks can be easily identified by their bizarre jaw, which protrudes a great deal while eating (video). The jaw of the goblin shark gives them their Japanese common name: Tenguzame, which references a mythical half human and half bird creature called Tengu. Their long, flat snout, relatively small head, and pink coloration are also distinctive. “ I love them because they’re pink, they’re mysterious, and they live deep among other cool creatures,” Stenberg says. I know many people think that they are ugly, but that just makes me love them more.”

The bottom view of a goblin shark's head and mouth, photo by Charlott Steinberg.

The bottom view of a goblin shark’s head and mouth, photo by Charlott Stenberg.

“NOAA biologists encourage people to call and report these rare sightings and catches, as the information they can collect allows them to know more about a species,” according to the official statement about this goblin shark by the National Marine Fisheries Service, After taking the photographs shown above, Carl Moore quickly released the goblin shark, which swam away.  This story spread without all of the correct information, initially resulting in several colleagues and I believing that Moore still had the shark and that it was possible to get samples for research projects. I am glad that this rare shark was released alive and reported to the proper authorities, and I will be writing a follow-up post soon explaining what to do if you catch a rare fish that does not survive. Such a specimen could benefit numerous ongoing research projects and help scientists to better understand a little-known animal.

Documenting Deep Sea Drama: Pursuing the Reality of Ocean Acidification

biology, deep sea, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceApril 28, 2014

1Kaitlin Kovacs is a researcher for U.S. Geological Survey – Southeast Ecological Science Center. While she currently works in a deep-sea benthic ecology lab, her previous science adventures have led her to study artificial reefs in Florida, coral reef restoration in the Maldives, and coastal ecosystems in the U.S. Virgin islands. With her marine science background, Kaitlin is keen on using outreach and education to help engage local communities in marine conservation efforts.

The ideas expressed below do not represent U.S. Geological Survey.

In the cult Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic, there is a scene in which a documentary film maker asks the protagonist, Steve Zissou (clearly a spoof of Jacques Cousteau) what the scientific purpose of his mission to kill the endangered Jaguar shark would be. The eccentric Zissou (brilliantly portrayed by Bill Murray) answers simply, “Revenge.”

The humor here is that scientific missions are rarely so openly coupled with emotion. And yet, the quirky marine biologist does not bother to hide that he is consumed with emotion after his partner is eaten by a shark. His anger and sadness fuel his scientific objective.


How much shark fin soup could you make from an adult megalodon?

BloggingApril 26, 2014

Carcharocles megalodon, commonly known as the megalodon, was likely the largest shark that ever lived. I say “was”, because despite claims by certain Discovery Channel “documentaries”, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the megalodon is extinct and has been for millions of years.

It isn’t surprising, though, that the largest shark that ever lived has such an impact on pop culture. Recently, we watched the latest in the spectacular “mega shark vs.” science fiction series, one of my favorite movie series based on extinct giant sharks coming back to life and wreaking havoc on the modern world.  The Southern Fried Scientist, who recently calculated how much Old Bay seasoning you’d need to properly cook the latest Aquaman villain,  asked me how much shark fin soup you could get from an adult megalodon.

Based on my calculations, the answer is about 70,000 bowls of shark fin soup, more than enough for everyone who lives in Greenland to have a bowl. Explaining where this number comes from can tell us a lot abTTout one of the most important ocean conservation issues facing the world today.


It’s illegal for anglers to land hammerheads in Florida. It’s time that media coverage pointed that out.

Conservation, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksApril 24, 2014

On January 1st, 2012, new Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations came into effect, making it illegal for fishermen to land great, smooth, or scalloped hammerhead sharks in Florida waters. The legal term “land” is clearly defined in the Florida Code:

Land,” when used in connection with the harvest of marine organisms, means the physical act of bringing the harvested organism ashore

“Harvest” means the catching or taking of a marine organism by any means whatsoever, followed by a reduction of such organism to possession. Marine organisms that are caught but immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed are not harvested”

 Florida code section 68B-44  (emphasis mine)

In other words, if a fish is brought out of the water, it is “landed”. If anglers stop the act of releasing a fish to measure it or take a photo, it is not “immediately released.”  If a fish isn’t  “immediately returned alive and unharmed” (and if the extremely physiologically stressful act of bringing a hammerhead out of the water results in it dying after release, it was not released “unharmed,”)  it is harvested. If you drag the shark out of the water and leave it there until it stops moving long enough that you feel safe to approach it, that is not an “immediately released” animal, and it isn’t an animal that is “released unharmed.”  Landing and/or harvesting hammerhead sharks is illegal. This is clear under the law, and has been confirmed by numerous consultations with an FWC Law Enforcement official.


Watch Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark on Netflix Wednesday at 10 p.m., and tweet along with us!

BloggingApril 22, 2014

mechaMega Shark vs. Mecha Shark, the third installment of the amazing “Mega Shark vs.” series, is now on Netflix streaming!

In 2009′s Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, a megaladon and a giant octopus were accidentally released by climate change, which led to a path of destruction around the world… until a scientific team involving Debbie Gibson convinced them to fight each other to the death!

In 2010′s Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, apparently the megaladon didn’t die, and now there’s also a giant crocodile! Also Jaleel White, TV’s Steve Urkel, played a scientist.

At this point, the military is ready for the megaladon, thanks to a mechanical giant shark they built! Also Debbie Gibson is back! Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark should be as awesome as the first two!

We’ll be watching starting at 10:00 P.M. eastern on Wednesday, 4/23. Please join us, and join the conversation on twitter with hashtag #MegaVsMecha !

My five favorite responses to the Loch Ness Debunking.

BloggingApril 21, 2014

I didn’t expect a throw-away post I made last Friday debunking an alleged image of the Loch Ness Monster to go viral, but this is the internet and these things happen. As you might expect, my inbox, social media accounts, and this website have been inundated with comments about that post, how wrong I must be, what’s really going on, and why X theory is clearly the correct one. For the record, it’s still a boat wake, but in light of the amount of attention the post received, I updated it with a bit more information about how that image could occur.

With that out of the way, here are my five favorite responses to the latest Loch Ness Monster sighting:


Collecting organisms to save their species

Blogging, Conservation, Science

 ProsantaDr.Prosanta Chakrabarty is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University and an ichthyologist and evolutionary biologist. He is also Curator of Fishes at LSU’s Museum of Natural Science. You can learn more about him from his website and follow him on Twitter @LSU_FISH.

A recent piece in Science (Minteer et al. 2014) titled “Avoiding (Re)extinction” advocated avoiding collecting specimens for the sake of confirming the existence of a species. In lieu of killing and collecting the animal the authors suggest using “high-resolution photography, audio recording, and nonlethal sampling.” As a natural history curator of fishes I found this to be a pretty bad idea.

My PhD students (Bill Ludt and Caleb McMahan) in Costa Rica collecting specimens for their thesis projects. These guys better not just come back with pictures.

My PhD students (Bill Ludt and Caleb McMahan) in Costa Rica collecting specimens for their thesis projects. These guys better not just come back with pictures.

I don’t like killing animals, I was a strict vegetarian for 10 years (now I just eat sustainable seafood – hey, I live in Louisiana). I certainly wouldn’t want to endanger a species by over collecting it. I know of no scientific collectors who kill rare animals just so he or she can say they have it in their collections. We collect for a few simple reasons: because specimens are not available otherwise via loan, or additional specimens are needed for a comparative study, or because we need vouchers as evidence of the existence of the taxon.

I’ve collected rare species in the past, particularly some of the cavefishes I work on. For one of these species, Typhleotris mararybe, we collected the only two specimens we or anyone ever saw. We were in a very remote part of Madagascar and we were only allowed to collect two specimens from any given locality. I knew these individuals were part of a species new to science as soon as I looked at them. Did removing two samples place this species at risk of extinction? Guessing the population was much larger than what we found just at the surface, I would suppose not. What were we to do? Not collect them and just take pictures? We wouldn’t have been able to do the necessary comparative descriptive analysis to actually prove their novelty required by the ICZN (International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature). We collected these specimens so that we could formally describe this new and fantastic new species so that the world can be aware of their existence and so that measures can be put in place to conserve them and study them further.


Fun Science Friday – First Female Penis

biology, ecology, evolution, Fun Science FridayApril 18, 2014

Happy Fun Science Friday.

You did not mistakenly read the title, today we bring you the discovery of the first female penis in the animal kingdom.

Mating insects of the genus Neotrogla. Photo Credit: Current Biology / Yoshizawa et al.

Mating insects of the genus Neotrogla.
Photo Credit: Current Biology / Yoshizawa et al.

Yoshizawa, from Hokkaido University in Japan, and his team of researchers documented this phenomenon of sexual role reversal in 4 species of rather unassuming insects in Brazil’s Peruaçu River Valley.  When insects of the genus Neotrogla mate, the female mounts the male and penetrates his vagina-like opening with her penis.


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