No, harassing a shark for fun is not ethically equivalent to scientific research that helps conserve a species

Blogging, Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksMarch 26, 2014

Last month, I wrote an article for Scientific American that I shouldn’t have had to write. In it, I argued that riding, poking, prodding or otherwise harassing a free-swimming large predatory animal for fun is a bad idea. I do mean “argued;” believe it or not, there are people who strongly disagree with me. In my article, I was very general and diplomatic, and I took pains to avoid naming names.

However, my article was at least partially inspired by the disrespectful, potentially dangerous, and very public behavior of one person: the editor of Shark Diver magazine, Eli Martinez. Eli recently wrote an article for Medium, in which he stated that: “Look, I have no problem with touching sharks and I do not have any problem with other people touching sharks.” He also notes that ” I just think riding sharks is disrespectful to the animals .” He has also shared the following photos (and many, many more like them) on his Facebook page, photos showing behavior he does not seem to consider disrespectful.


Help track fire restoration with this innovative Citizen Science project!

Citizen Science, Conservation, ScienceMarch 24, 2014

Last year, over 3,000 acres of Mount Diablo State Park were scorched by the Morgan Wildfire. The fire, likely started by target shooters, caused 75 homes to be evacuated and left the park closed to visitors for weeks. The park is now open and the massive fire scar is beginning to heal.

Nerds for Nature, URS, and the Mount Diablo Park service have teamed up to promote wildfire education and harness the enthusiasm of the park’s visitors to monitor fire recovery. Throughout the park, a series of signs will inform hikers about the Morgan Fire and direct them to a fixed bracket where they can line of their smart phone, take a picture, and tweet it to the MorganFire hashtags (#morganfire01, #morganfire02, #morganfire03, #morganfire04, depending on location). As the area recovers, those picture will be pooled to create a long-term documentation of change.

This is an incredibly innovative use of citizen scientist and I’d love to see more recovery projects adopt this model. The next time your hiking in Mount Diablo, keep an eye for the Fire Brackets. Amy and I were out there this weekend, contributing to wildfire recovery monitoring.


Today in Sacramento, I’m talking about #DrownYourTown

#DrownYourTownMarch 18, 2014

dytflierCome by and check it out!


The science of shark control (and what it means for the Western Australia cull)

Blogging, Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksMarch 17, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProf Colin Simpfendorfer is the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture at James Cook University. He has more than 25 years of experience in researching sharks, and has published extensively in the scientific literature on shark biology, ecology, fisheries and conservation. He is a graduate of James Cook University where he undertook both his undergraduate and postgraduate training. After completing his PhD he worked on shark fisheries at the Western Australian Fisheries Department before moving to Florida to work at the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory. He returned to JCU in 2007 to lead the Fishing and Fisheries Research Unit, where he has helped build a research group focused on improving our understanding of sharks and how best to conserve and manage their populations.

Call it a shark cull, shark control or bather protection, for decades governments have been trying to reduce the risk of humans being killed by sharks – by killing sharks. New South Wales, Queensland, KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Hawaii, Dunedin (New Zealand), Hong Kong, Somalia (during the US military intervention) and now Western Australia have, or had, shark control programs to reduce the risk of human-shark interactions.

Western Australia’s new program has sparked huge controversy, with many calling for the government to stop and pursue alternatives.There have been a range of claims that there is no science to support shark control. Many of these have been based on the effects of removing large predatory sharks on ocean ecosystems or that there is no evidence that shark culls reduce the risk of attack.Both of these are valid scientific considerations and need to be taken into account. However, neither addresses whether there is some scientific basis to shark control programs.

So here I would like consider whether there is a scientific basis to shark control programs. To do this I’ll look first at the theory, and then if there is evidence to support it based on analysis of data from the programs in KwaZulu-Natal and Queensland.


A field guide to ocean science and conservation on Twitter, volume 2

Conservation, Environmentalism, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceMarch 14, 2014

Almost 2 years ago, we published our first field guide to ocean science and conservation on twitter. While the advice is still sound (and you should definitely read it), the recommended people to follow is now painfully dated. Here’s two updated lists of core people to follow on twitter to get yourself plugged in to the ocean science and conservation community.

New to the online ocean community? This list will help you get connected to the conversation by following key members of the community. Rather than a comprehensive collection of all ocean science and conservation broadcasters, this short list will help you follow along without becoming overwhelmed.


Fun Science Friday – “Trolls Just Wanna Have Fun”

Blogging, Fun Science Friday

I have to admit, I love this title, but cannot claim it as my own. It is the title of the research paper that forms the basis for today’s FSF, internet trolling.

They see me Trollin. Photo Credit: NineFiveZero

They see me Trollin.
Photo Credit: NineFiveZero

Anyone who has ever spent remotely anytime reading the comments section of pretty much anywhere on the internet has likely observed a Troll (why some of you reading may even have engaged in Troll-like behavior). While these Trolls do not physically hide under bridges and/or steal sheep, their actions parallel many of the annoyances of their fairy tale  counterparts.  As defined by wikipedia, an Internet Troll “is a person who sows discord on the Internet… with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”


Southern Fried Science Has A NEW Header Image


At least for a month.

Roughly every month your beloved Southern Fried Science rotates the main header image for its site. The idea behind this format, is that it freshens up the site’s homepage, but also gives our readers the opportunity to have their pictures featured on the site.

This month’s header image was provided by me, and was captured with Wormcam. The image displays a mud crab in it’s burrow near the mouth of the York River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, under the Coleman Bridge (a bit of specifics for those familiar with the area).

I love this image for so many reasons. 1) The image is just plain cool. Aesthetically it is one of the better images we have captured with Wormcam. But I also love this image because 2) it represents scientific progress. Studying the subsurface of soft-sediments is notoriously difficult given the opaqueness of sediment. Studying subsurface sediment processes, continually, over long periods of time is even more difficult given the corrosive nature of sediment redox reactions. Wormcam provides us the ability for long-term observation of subsurface sediment processes, and in the process captures never before seen behaviors, interactions, and dynamism of the structural complexity cryptically hidden below the sediment surface of marine systems.

This image captures a mud crab in it’s burrow, but is apart of a larger series of images that displays the behavior and actions of this buried crab in response to erosion and accretion events, co-occupancy of the burrow by other organisms, predatory digging around the mouth of the burrow, and even the intrusion of a clam siphon from below into the burrow.

Ain’t Science Cool!

Submit potential header images to have your own work featured on the homepage, and possibly even share your store about the image!

10 times more fish in the sea? Context matters.

ecology, fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, ScienceMarch 11, 2014

Earlier this year, a research team from Spain released a surprising new estimate of mesopelagic fish biomass that is 10 times greater than previous estimates. This new study raises the total estimated biomass of mesopelagic fish from 1 billion tons to 10 billion tons, accounting for 95% of all fish biomass. The news media ran with dozens of variations on the “plenty of fish in the sea” trope, suggesting that the global fisheries may be more abundant and reversing the doom-and-gloom message of fisheries decline.

This is not correct.

The fish in question are small, mid-water species like myctophids and cyclothones, fish that are incredibly important for ocean ecosystems, but commercially non-viable. The reason they were missed in previous studies is that these small, agile fish avoid nets; This new study uses SONAR and other acoustic tools to measure biomass.  So while there is a huge, untapped fish stock in the mid-water world, it is not a commercial fishery.

Let’s put things in perspective.


2 opportunities to hone your online science outreach skills

Blogging, Conservation, Environmentalism

Looking for classes on science, social media, and online environmental writing? We’ve got two classes coming up for undergraduate, graduate, and professionals students looking to hone their online outreach skills.

Social Media For Environmental Communications: taught this year by me and Dr. Amy Freitag, this course will be taught over 6 weeks this spring as an immersive online-only course–the course will be conducted entirely through social media platforms (primarily Google+ Hangouts). Sign up early as early registration ends on March 17 and space is limited. This will be our second year teaching the class, which was very well received last year.

Writing In The Digital Ecosystem: Effective Environmental Writing Through Social Media: A brand new course taught at the Duke University Marine Lab in scenic Beaufort, NC. Undergraduates from any institution looking for an educational experience on the coast can enroll in Summer Term II at the Duke Marine Lab. Plenty of other outstanding ocean science and policy courses are on offer during the same term. Graduate students enrolled in Duke’s Masters in Environmental Management program can also enroll.

5 things we discussed in my #scio14 “social media as a scientific research tool” session

BloggingMarch 10, 2014

ScionlineAt ScienceOnline Together 2014, I moderated a session titled “social media as a scientific research tool” (background information here). We had a great discussion, and I wanted to thank everyone who came or participated virtually. For the benefit of those who couldn’t make it, I wanted to summarize our discussion.

1) Social media and “big data” can be an incredibly powerful research tool. The ability to study what hundreds/thousands/millions of people are saying, and therefore thinking, about a given topic has countless implications for research. I listed 5 examples in my background blog post, but we discussed many more in the session.

2) It is relatively easy to use social media as a research tool. Though some of the software, like Radian6, can be expensive, if your project is relatively small, it can be inexpensive (even free) and simple to get the data you need. To demonstrate this, attendee Edmund Hart performed an analysis of tweets about the NC Natural Sciences Museum within a few hours of my session ending. Someone made a NodeXL graph of the resulting #scioResearch twitter conversation before I had even gotten snacks in the break after my session. The programming involved is relatively simple, which means that, in the words of an attendee, even if you can’t do it yourself, buy your friendly neighborhood programmer a beer and they can do it for you quickly.

3) The ease in getting the data doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t involve a trained social scientist in study design and data analysis. In order to ensure that the data is analyzed correctly, be sure to involve someone in the project who is familiar with content and discourse analysis, the study of knowledge and attitudes, etc.  Just because you can easily obtain the data does not mean that you have the training needed to properly analyze it.  As has frequently been discussed, social science is a technical and rigorous discipline.

4) It is important to understand what data you AREN’T getting from social media. Any tool has its limitations. For example, if someone isn’t on twitter (for any reason, including but not limited to “doesn’t have a smartphone/computer” or “doesn’t live in an area with internet/3G”), then you simply won’t be able to study their knowledge and attitudes using their tweets.

5) There are important ethical considerations when using social media and “big data” to study certain subjects. While someone’s tweets are essentially public statements from a legal perspective, someone with only a few followers on twitter is probably not thinking of their tweets in this way. While a study like mine (knowledge and attitudes with respect to shark conservation and management) is unlikely to have any negative effect on the stakeholders I study, it is easy to see how a study that can detect medical conditions like post-partum depression can cause problems for the research subjects if the information gets into the wrong hands. As with any research involving humans, it is important to get approval from your Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Thanks again to all who participated in the discussion! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!

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