Learn what whale harassment looks like (GIFs)

It’s nearly summer, which means the shores will soon be filled with SUP boards, drones, and self-professed whale whisperers.  This authentic lifestyle is an obnoxious time for marine mammals, and soon your online feeds will be flooded with aerial footage of people “sharing the water” with marine megafauna.  Some of these shots are innocent but an increasing amount are harassment.  Below is a helpful GIF guide to tell the difference.

Not harassment:

not whale harassment

Also not harassment:

not whale harassment

These scenarios happen.  They are rarely documented and totally amazing.

not whale harassment

(c) Dave de Beer, Cape Town

The below GIF explains what whale harassment looks like:

whale harassment

It’s truly that simple.  The next time an amazing 4K aerial shot shows people interacting with whales, ask yourself two things:  1) Is the whale’s head or the tail facing the people?  2) Are the people actively approaching the whale?

If the answers are 1) Tail and 2) Yes, that is harassment.

Remember:  Whales, dolphins, sharks, or anything else in the ocean does not have to interact with you, even if you brought your drone and your Instagram feed is a bit lacking.  It is illegal to harass marine mammals because it is potentially life threatening for both you and them.

Seagull swallowed by tuna

The tuna that ate a seagull, and other bird swallowing marine megafauna

Once again, the internet is in a fervour over a rarely documented, but pretty common, animal interaction.  The video below shows fishermen at a pier in L’Escala, Spain tossing small fish to a tuna.  A nearby seagull went for the same fish and was ingested by the tuna, much to everyone’s surprise.  Naturally, the tuna spat out the seagull, luckily uninjured, and it flew away to dive another day:

Seabirds are often ingested by marine megafauna since both groups forage in the same areas, often on the exact same prey.  This video was an artificial overlap of foraging animals created by the people tossing fish from the pier, but in natural settings where two animals feed on the same prey and one of those animals is considerably larger than the other, the smaller animal faces a pretty high risk of being swallowed.

This is especially true for lunge-feeding whales that take in large mouthfuls of fish, water, and anything else at the surface.  Haynes et al. identified three Glaucous-winged gulls in the fecal remains of foraging humpback whales in Glacier Bay, Alaska.  The birds were mostly intact, suggesting that humpback whales aren’t capable of digesting birds well (we’ve all been there).

All of the examples above are accidental ingestion, but some marine animals deliberately target birds for food, too.  Tiger sharks seasonally aggregate at the Hawaiian Islands of French Frigate Shoals to forage on albatross fledglings.  Fledglings are fat, slow, and naïve, making them easy and profitable prey.  This foraging strategy is common among sharks and is the same reason white sharks target seal colonies during South African winters.

The alien giant catfish of the river Tarn in southwestern France is an aquatic example.  They have also acquired a taste for feathered food and learned to ambush aloof pigeons, with a success rate of 28%:

Although not mega- megafauna, the Hilaire’s Side-necked turtles of Brazil have been documented consuming pigeons in a scene that honestly rivals Jaws.  Who’s slow now? (Edit: Thanks to @mattkeevil for the reference!)

Marine and aquatic animals do indeed eat birds, accidentally and deliberately.  Exactly how regularly this happens is unknown, but this antipodean pairing is essentially the chocolate shake and fries of the natural world.  The bottom line is, if you are in the same space where something bigger than you is foraging, you might get swallowed.  Birds, and humans, alike:

Behaviour Bites: The uncomfortable truth about that penguin video

A brilliant thing about the internet is how natural events are immediately accessible to the world-wide public.  Someone can record a cheetah jumping onto their safari car and I can watch it in my Netherlands office less than 24 hours later.  Sadly, most animal videos that go viral are ones that feature animal behaviour that we think directly relates to us, humans – the real stars of the show – but rarely does the behaviour (or the animal in the video, for that matter) have anything to do with us.  Attributing human-like characteristics to non-human things is called “anthropomorphism.”  It’s a natural part of our psyche and explains why we find Elvis in potato chips or Kate Middleton in jelly beans.

Those who genuinely study animal behaviour (ethologists) first learn to recognize anthropomorphism, no matter how subtle, and then train for years to view situations from a strictly behavioural standpoint.  You may look at a dolphin and say it’s “smiling.”  An ethologist will look at that same dolphin and say it simply has its mouth closed.  You may say the dog is “laughing,” an ethologist will say the dog associates small high-pitched barks in quick succession with a reward.  Does this mean that ethologists view animals coldly and without emotion?  No.  It means that ethologists want to decode what the animal is saying, rather than force our meanings or motives into their mouths.  We just see the potato chip.

Now, I hate to also be a wet blanket, but I often get terribly, terribly vexed when I see these videos, so I have decided that when I am not singing about science, I will explain the real behaviour featured in these popular videos.  Warning, this video cannot be unseen:

If you have a video suggestion for the next behaviour bites, please leave it in the comments!

Singing Science: Weather vs. Climate with lyrics for teachers

The month of February 2016 just broke a global temperature recordpreviously held by… January…2016.

While the Trubama climate plans are being praised, the comments section of this Guardian article was still inundated with “Well, it’s cold where I am” posts.  Perhaps we need to create more awareness about the difference between weather and climate…

I know, I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I love to sing.  Every neighbor, flat mate, and unwilling car passenger knows this.  In fact, the only thing I love as much as singing is teaching science, but the metaphorical light bulb didn’t come on until I attended a SciComm workshop in Portugal.  Why not sing about science like many others?  Maybe even weather and climate??

Adele songs were the obvious choice, both for singability and availability of karaoke versions on YouTube, so I began my research.  I asked facebook if this would be a valuable addition to the internets, or best not to talk about it ever again, and the response was significantly positive.  Thus, #SingingScience was born and with it a commitment to do more of these when I have free time.

Enjoy, Weather vs. Climate set to Adele’s “Hello”

**Note (because evidently it’s not obvious):  This is not real meteorological data.

Here are the lyrics for any science teachers who would like them: Read More

Remember when sexism in science died? Me neither.

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


Any female scientist my age (Generation Pre-Internet) can remember when sexism was a standard rite of passage.  Truly, you hadn’t ‘made it’ in science until you could one-up your colleague’s harassment story.  I remember being enlisted into the Sisterhood of the Travelling Confidants (to quote an old classic), where we laughed at the futility of filing complaints while helping new members process their anger.  We were powerless back then… but many.

Then came the advent of ‘social media’, sharing and liking posts, hashtags, connectivity and a voice.  This led to the realization that all institutes of every field of science had their own Sisterhoods.  One by one, reluctantly, these groups came out of the libraries on the second floor (there’s a second floor??), hidden basement kitchenettes, and forgotten conference rooms.  New members, who were younger and more internet savvy than the old guard, took to social media to process their anger.  The sisterhoods became solidarities when male colleagues used their position to amplify the messages.  Soon, a spotlight was put on our inside joke that reporting harassment to higher-ups was as effective as one of David’s remote petitions, and titans of torment began to fall, one by one, each story more disturbing – at least to those outside of the sisterhood – than the last. Read More

Why that ‘genius’ 6-year-old’s solution to Rubbish Delays will make things worse

On January 1, 2016, the Southern Fried Science central server began uploading blog posts apparently circa 2041. Due to a related corruption of the contemporary database, we are, at this time, unable to remove these Field Notes from the Future or prevent the uploading of additional posts. Please enjoy this glimpse into the ocean future while we attempt to rectify the situation.


We’ve all been there.  You’ve spent an extortionate amount of your travel budget on an atmojet so that you can reach NYC from London in 3 hours, but your launch ends up being delayed an additional 3 hours by an endless airbourne rubbish vortex (ARV).  Research has shown that much of the particles that make up an ARV are pieces of garbage bags that date to the early 2000’s, when effective grocery bag bans ignored the elephant-in-the-room large black garbage bags that continued to be used.  Additionally, the disastrous Rubbish Catchments instalments along highways that were designed to reduce blowing rubbish have unintentionally encouraged people to be even more careless with their litter.  It seems that these dreaded Rubbish Delays at airports aren’t going away anytime soon, and may become even worse.

Enter The Complete Air Cleanup, an engineering project created by the latest kid ‘genius’.  This large plastic net design is an interpretation of the latest viral DreamOracle image, created by the subconscious doodlings of 6-year-old Cassis Wigan.  These 3D rainbow-coloured scribbles created by recording brain electron movement during REM sleep are probably the most obnoxious soothsaying mediums for tech-parents used to confirm that they, indeed, have birthed the next Nikola Tesla.  Neurobiologists have consistently denounced these images as just as effective for predicting intelligence as the pattern your child creates during an explosive bowel movement, but nonetheless this hasn’t stopped parents from interpreting their child’s entire DreamOracle Diary to unsuspecting vitacoffee break victims, worldwide. Read More

Are you suffering from FOBLAB?

Warning: The following blog post contains some language that is NSWF. 

You are sat at a table of professionals within your field and they are discussing a topic you are very experienced with.  The group keeps mentioning common beginner errors that you could easily correct, but you don’t.  You sit quietly and sip your coffee.

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One of the world’s rarest birds is also the squee-est

Introducing the spoon-billed sandpiper:

(c) Roland Digby/WWT/PA Wire, originally published http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/world-s-rarest-birds-hand-reared-experts-returned/story-27630995-detail/story.html#ixzz3jFOW6Q43

(c) Roland Digby/WWT/PA Wire, originally published here.

Spoon-billed sandpipers are migratory wader birds that breed in the sub-Arctic and winter in southeast Asia.  Best estimates point to less than 100 breeding pairs left in the wild due to a decrease of breeding habitat in the Arctic and increase of bird-hunters in Asia.  Don’t worry, this is a story about #OceanOptimism…

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The War on Climate Change is a Guaranteed Job Creator

Our human history is measured in a sequence of “epochs”, periods of time defined by events or advancements. Today, we are entering the epoch of climate change.  In this era, Lindsay Graham acknowledges that climate change is real and humans are causing it. Conversations finally turn away from “Do we need to do anything?” to “What are we going to do now?”

This question terrifies conservative political parties across the globe. “What are we going to do now?” cannot be answered by old techniques aging politicians are comfortable with. The beginning of the climate change epoch is the end of their political/economical relevance just as the DVR was the death of Laser Disc. We cannot save our economies and address these new challenges by using strategies developed 30+ years ago during a completely different environment.   Read More