Barndoor skates, once a textbook example of overfishing, have recovered enough to allow fishing

Barndoor skates were once thought to be so overfished that a highly-publicized paper from 1998 noted that they had been “driven to near extinction without anyone noticing.” One of the largest skates, barndoor skates can reach over 5 feet in wingspan, which is large enough that their diet includes small sharks like spiny dogfish; for a skate, that’s about as close as it gets to charismatic megafauna!

Recently, NOAA Fisheries announced that Barndoor skate populations off the Northeastern United States had finally recovered enough that fishing for them could resume. This move comes after a 2009 NOAA Fisheries report showed that the species had begun to recover enough that they could be removed from the species of concern list, though they remained protected at the time. “This is good news,” Mike Ruccio, a Supervisory Fishery Policy Analyst for NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, told me. “Rebuilding overfished stocks is one of the cornerstones of the US domestic policy on fisheries.”

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How many nuclear weapons are at the bottom of the sea. An (almost certainly incomplete) census of broken arrows over water.

What’s the weirdest think you’ve found in the ocean?

Several week ago, we tackled this question while discussing the incredible shrinking cups the deep-sea scientists like to decorate and send into the wine-dark deep. While toilets and spam cans and beer bottles make for good headlines and shocking images of how extensive human impacts are on the deep sea, those are far from the strangest objects to grace the sea floor.

By most reasonable metrics, that honor has to go to the many nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon components that have been lost at sea over the last 70 years. While a few high-profile incidents have received tremendous coverage, most incidents remain largely shrouded in secrecy, with only sparse reports available. Which brings us to a question that’s been lodged in my brain for the last month: just how many nuclear weapons are sitting at the bottom of the sea?

A Mark-43 nuclear bomb. One of these is at the bottom of the sea.

A Mark-43 nuclear bomb. One of these is at the bottom of the sea.

This, of course, does not include the many, many, many times the United States has intentionally tested nuclear weapons throughout the Pacific, often while forcibly relocating local communities away for their now-test-site homes or, occasionally, not. This also doesn’t include the rare lost nuclear submarine, who’s payloads and whether or not they carried nuclear ordinance are mostly still classified. And, of course, it doesn’t include the Soviets or any other non-US nuclear nation.

For the most part, the 1950s and 60s were a hell of a time for losing track of nuclear weapons. By the time the 70s rolled around we had decide that maybe we should be a bit more careful with these things. But by then, we had accidentally dropped at least ten nukes into the ocean in eight different incidents. And we had lost one in a Carolina swamp. And we had almost accidentally nuked Greenland.

Who the heck thought these things were a good idea?

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In South Louisiana, Seafood Means Hope

This blog post and photo slideshow was created during OCEANDOTCOMM, an ocean science communication event, and supported by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) The theme of OCEANDOTCOMM was Coastal Optimism. Photos were contributed by our lead photographer, Rafeed Hussain/Ocean Conservancy, with additions from other OCEANDOTCOMM attendees, including Melissa Miller, Samantha Oester, Susan Von Thun, Solomon David, Rebecca Helm, and Alexander Havens.

A sign at the Bait House in Chauvin, Louisiana. Photo by Rafeed Hussain / Ocean Conservancy

In many ways, South Louisiana is seafood- a trip here isn’t complete without eating some gumbo, oysters, or crawfish. Only one state (Alaska) lands more seafood than Louisiana’s 1.2 billion pounds a year (as of 2016). As of 2008, one in 70 jobs in the whole state is tied to fishing or related industries. According to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, “when you choose Louisiana seafood, you’re ensuring that your purchase benefits an American community and a way of life.”

When we visited Terrebonne Parish, home to nearly 20 percent of all commercial fishing license holders in Louisiana, we found that fishing means more to the people of this community than food and jobs. Here in South Louisiana, fishing is a vital part of the vibrant local culture and community pride. In a region that’s been devastated by hurricanes and oil spills, fishing is also a source of something more important: hope.

Below, you’ll hear what fishing means to South Louisiana’s fishing communities through the voices of a former shrimper, the owner of a grocery store that has served the town of Chauvin for more than a century, and representatives of a local Native American tribe. You’ll also get a glimpse into this beautiful part of the world through a photo slideshow. Together, this paints a picture of communities that have overcome unimaginable struggle, but still look forward to the future, in no small part because of the riches of the sea.

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#Make4thePlanet Borneo is coming! Team Applications are Open!

Make for the Planet is back! And this time, rather than the atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building, it’ll be in beautiful, sunny, Sarawak, Borneo!

Trading the robot orangutans for actual orangutans.

Trading the robot orangutans for actual orangutans.

To ensure a better future for our planet, conservation experts need to work with solutions, technologies, and expertise from diverse fields to greatly improve the efficacy, speed, cost, scale, and sustainability of conservation efforts.  Ocean acidification, invasive species, marine protection, overfishing, coral reef degradation – we are aware of the many problems faced by our oceans, and humankind has the ingenuity and optimism to solve them!

How can you help solve ocean conservation challenges? Participate in Make for the Planet Borneo and create solutions to conservation challenges in front of a global audience at the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC5) in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia June 24-29, 2018!  Team applications are open now through April 1st, 2018. Apply here!

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The most shocking, insightful ocean conservation solutions, as presented by a poorly-built Twitter bot.

We made a bot. It’s not a very good bot but it does prognosticate on novel ocean conservation solutions. @OceanCon_Bot has been running for almost a month and it’s produced some real gems. Solid, salt-of-the-earth, diamond-in-the-rough, gabbro-in-your-lab, bro, solutions. And these are among my favorites.

We definitely need to stop presenting those condescending academics, but why so down on transparency, @OceanCon_Bot?

Catalyze lionfish and address Caribbean extinction? I guess you can’t really do both.

Ok, it’s possible we created an evil ocean bot.

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A new kind of robot to save the ocean!

It’s the Ocean Conservation Bot!

@OceanCon_Bot creates new an novel ocean conservation solutions by drawing from a vast and deep archive of randomly generate ocean jargon. @OceanCon_Bot is currently capable of generating 3.2 quadrillion potential ocean conservation solutions. @OceanCon_Bot is incapable of determining whether a solution is good, bad, gibberish, or really, really gibberish.

@OceanCon_Bot is parody, obviously. Mostly.


Hey Team Ocean! Southern Fried Science is entirely supported by contributions from our readers. Head over to Patreon to help keep our servers running an fund new and novel ocean outreach projects. Even a dollar or two a month will go a long way towards keeping our website online and producing the high-quality marine science and conservation content you love. And also let’s me dedicate a few hours to making weird twitter bots. 

Lions, Whales, and the Web: Transforming Moment Inertia into Conservation Action

I have a new paper out today with an incredible team of co-authors: Naomi Rose, Mel Cosentino, and Andrew Wright.

Thaler and friends (2017) Lions, Whales, and the Web: Transforming Moment Inertia into Conservation Action. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00292.

In it, we look at three case-studies of online and offline reactions to the deaths of specific, charismatic animals, and discuss how preparation, planning, and tactical thinking can be used to promote effective conservation messaging in the wake of these haphazard events. We talk about how outrage, empathy, and curiosity play a role in the global conversation and how to effectively mobilize this attention into conservation action.

Conservation activism following moment inertia is a balancing act between strategic planning and a quick, tactical response. When the catalyst is moral outrage, it is important to allow people to be angry, rather than to try and curb such responses. In these circumstances, it is possible to leverage predictable moral signaling into tangible conservation gains.

Regardless of the emotional reaction—outrage, curiosity, or empathy—the general guidelines for conservationists leveraging moment inertia are the same. First, planning for pseudorandom events is essential to produce meaningful outcomes. Second, understanding the limitations of campaigning on an inertial moment will help establish and achieve concrete, realistic goals. Third, the call to action must be informed by the local context, address local cultural values, and be delivered by those who can connect with the public. Finally, it is critical to maintain a factual basis while acknowledging the emotions involved.

With foresight, a focus on concrete goals, and an understanding of the strengths and limitations inherent in moment inertia, these events can be harnessed to help achieve lasting conservation successes.

Thaler and friends (2017)

What is Moment Inertia: Moment Inertia is a phenomenon that arises from focus of attention around a single, clarifying event, or moment, which propagates, undirected, through media unless acted upon by outside forces.

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Gills Club Shark Tales: An online and in-person sharkstravaganza 19-20 September at NEAQ!

Note:  This post has been updated on 18 September 2017.  

Friends, Researchers, Countrywomen, lend me your ears!

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and New England Aquarium are hosting a completely free two-day event, 19-20 September, featuring an amazing line-up of shark scientists and enthusiasts, including:

Keynote Speakers:

Susan Goldberg – Editor in Chief of National Geographic Magazine

Wendy Benchley – Renowned global voice for shark protection and co-founder of the prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Awards.

Gills Club Science Team Speakers:
Dr. Michelle Heupel – Australian Institute of Marine Science
Dr. Alison Kock – South African National Parks
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Welcome to #JacquesWeek 2017!

Jacques Week begins this Sunday, July 23, 2017! Join us for a week of celebrating classic Jacques Cousteau Documentaries, discussing ocean science and conservation, and celebrating all things Big Blue! Most of these films are available online. Some will require purchase. We’ve provided links to the for-purchase options and alternates if you can’t find them. Links to all available films can be found at the JacquesWeek2017 YouTube playlist.

Sunday, July 23

  • 20:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Water Planet
  • 21:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Beneath the Frozen World

Monday, July 24

  • 20:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Incredible March of the Spiny Lobster
  • 21:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Blizzard at Hope Bay

Tuesday, July 25

  • 20:00 EST – Southern Fried Science Discussion: Introduction to the Silent World
  • 20:15 EST – The Silent World (alternate: World without Sun)
  • 22:30 EST – Southern Fried Science Discussion: Understanding the Silent World

Wednesday, July 26

  • 20:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Life at the End of the World
  • 21:00 EST – Jacques Cousteau Odyssey: The Nile, Part I (alternate: The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: Those Incredible Diving Machines)
  • 22:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Desert Whales

Thursday, July 27

  • 20:00 EST – Jacques Cousteau Odyssey: The Nile, Part II (alternate: The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: The Legend of Lake Titicaca)
  • 21:00 EST – The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau: 500 Million Years Beneath the Sea
  • 22:00 EST – #ThrowbackThursday: Jacques Cousteau on Atlantis and Cognac

Friday, July 28

Jacques Week is not associated with any of the Cousteau organizations. It is a purely grassroots celebration of the man who brought ocean adventure, science, and conservation to the world.


Hey Team Ocean! Southern Fried Science is entirely supported by contributions from our readers. Head over to Patreon to help keep our servers running and fund new and novel ocean outreach projects. Even a dollar or two a month will go a long way towards keeping our website online and producing the high-quality marine science and conservation content you love.

How would the elegant Trochus wear its jaunty red knit cap for #JacquesWeek?

#JacquesWeek. Be there. 


Hey Team Ocean! Southern Fried Science is entirely supported by contributions from our readers. Head over to Patreon to help keep our servers running and fund new and novel ocean outreach projects. Even a dollar or two a month will go a long way towards keeping our website online and producing the high-quality marine science and conservation content you love.