In The Mass Extinction of Scientists Who Study Species, Dr. Craig McClain argues that we are loosing a fundamental unit of biological science – the Taxonomist. He’s right, of course. Taxonomy is a shrinking field. Entire phyla sit, unstudied, as the expertise necessary to understand them retires and expires. With few to train the next generation of taxonomists, the field could slowly vanish. Molecular tools are supplanting traditional taxonomy (once described to me as “the ability to identify hundreds of species of centimeter-long worms by counting ass-hairs under a microscope”) as the de rigueur method for identifying organisms.
I do not disagree with Craig. Losing skilled taxonomists is tragic for the biological sciences. Unlike many leading the charge in support of taxonomy, I did not benefit from a rigorous taxonomic study in my early career. I fall into the same camp as Dr. Holly Bik, relying primarily on molecules, not morphology, to draw the distinctions between my samples. I never identified species by counting the ass-hairs on a worm, and my education is poorer for it.
Now that Ocean of Pseudoscience Week has come to a close, we thought it would be a good time to talk about our favorite real sea monsters – amazing marine creatures that capture the imagination. For mine, we naturally have to take a trip to the deep sea to find Bathynomous, the giant deep-sea isopod.
Giant isopods are the monster cousins of the terrestrial isopod commonly know as the rolly-polly or pill bug. First discovered in 1879, these deep-sea scavengers can reach over a foot in length, dwarfing the much more minuscule common isopods, found on beaches and docks around the world.
Dr. M from Deep Sea News has done quite a bit of research on why these isopods get so big. Isopocalypse 2010 is a good place to start. IN short, giganticism is not uncommon in the deep sea, and may be a response to a food-limited environment. But you’ll have to check out the Deep Sea News post for more details.
We have been and continue to be critical of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Although their goals are admirable their methods are not only ineffective, but in some cases impair the achievement of those goals. With the premier of Whale Wars season 3 tomorrow evening, we’d like to take a moment to highlight the issues we’ve raised concerning the SSCS. Over the last two years we’ve written a number of post summarizing our problems with Sea Shepherd: