Shark Week 2019 reviews and thoughts

I wasn’t able to watch live this year, but I DVR-ed all 18 specials and watched them eventually! Here are my reviews, ratings, and thoughts. I did not watch the feature-length movie, which they claim is the first fictional entertainment content they’ve ever produced… causing me to stare in megalodon. Overall, this was not a strong year for science, facts, or diversity (of either sharks or shark researchers).

As a reminder, I grade on the following aspects of a show: is there actual science or natural history educational content / is there made up nonsense, are actual credentialed experts with relevant expertise featured or are they self-proclaimed “shark experts” who say wrong nonsense all the time, what species are featured (with bonus points for species we rarely or never see), and do they feature diverse experts or just the same white men (reminder: my field is more than 50% women)? It’s not a perfect rubric, but it’s better than this actual system for ranking shark news introduced this year in “sharks gone wild 2:”

Rankings appear in no particular order, if you care about the order the shows actually aired in please see this Discovery press release.

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10 sharks that mattered in the 2010’s

Just when you thought it was safe to read another decade-in-review listicle…

You can buy this on a tshirt

As the 2010’s come to an end, it’s a time to reflect on the often-problematic decade that was as we plan for a hopeful future. I am a sucker for year-in-review and decade-in-review listicles, and was devastated to learn that no one had yet written a decade-in-review listicle for sharks! Please enjoy my official, scientific list of the most important science, conservation, and pop culture sharks from the past decade.

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Alexa, open the pod bay doors; or how I learned to stop worrying and hack the wiretap in my home.

Confession: I have an Amazon Echo. I really like Amazon Echo. I use Amazon Echo almost every day.

Everything about the Amazon Echo is great, except for the primary feature of the Amazon Echo: it is always listening. When I received the Echo nearly five years ago, as a gift, Amazon was not quite the Surveillance Capitalism behemoth that it is now. They packaged their new smart speaker with lots of information about privacy and what Echo can and can’t and won’t do.

Of course, none of that turned out to be true. In just the last year, Echos have been turned into permanent recording devices, listened to a couple’s conversations and then inexplicably sent those conversations to the husband’s employer, and sent 1,700 voice recordings to a totally random stranger. Amazon hasn’t exactly done much to help the image of Echos as Bradburian household horrors, unveiling an Echo Dot for Kids, filling patents for true always-on recording, releasing recordings to outside contractors, and, perhaps most egregious of all, embedding Alexa into a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

It’s reached the point where no one should feel comfortable having an always-on speaker in their home, but damn if these little things aren’t just so convenient. On top of being useful for quick searches, playing Baby Shark on repeat 40 times, checking the weather, and dozens of other little things, the original Echo was a really good speaker. It seems a waste to throw the whole thing away just because one feature is unacceptable.

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The Science of Aquaman: The Complete Anthology

We have written a lot about Aquaman over the last 10 years. With our favorite ocean master is finally getting his big screen debut, we’ve collected everything Aquaman and Southern Fried Science in one place. Enjoy!

It’s the Aquaman Trailer!

First, the brutal takedown that started it all and its follow-ups:

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Shark Week 2018 overall thoughts and episode reviews

The 30th anniversary of Shark Week was the biggest ever, with 22 episodes. It was, as usual, a bit of a mixed bag, though nothing was anywhere near as bad as the bad old days of Megalodon, and there was some pretty good stuff. As has become tradition here at Southern Fried Science, here are some overall thoughts on this year’s Shark Week, as well as reviews for each episode (not counting the clip shows, which I didn’t watch- even I have limits).

Overall thoughts:

  • I heard more references to shark conservation this year, though almost exclusively offhand references to how the Bahamas is a Shark Sanctuary (there was one mention of shark fin trade bans in the Shark Tank show).
  • There were more women scientists and non-white scientists than I can remember, but still some major issues with diversity of scientists. (The white male scientists were still treated differently, including being given their full titles, and in one case a white male with a Masters was called Dr. while a woman with a Ph.D. was not called Dr.).
  • 22 shows is too many shows. I may be the only one in the world who actually tried to watch them all and I had to skip the clip shows because even I have limits.

Rather than organizing episode reviews in chronological order or air date, this year I’m going to organize them by theme.

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Everything you need to know about conservation you can learn from Alien(s)

As a provider of advice on how to do effective conservation, Southern Fried Science has previously looked to such as The Game of Thrones for inspiration. Today we look at another famous source of conservation tips: Alien (and Aliens)…

A single charismatic animal can be a great motivator for action.

Jones the cat

Scientists sometimes have self interests that can derail a project.

Science officer Ash

Just when you think everything is going ok a crisis hits…

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A scene-by-scene breakdown of the first trailer of “The Meg”

Yesterday, the trailer for “the Meg” was released online.  This movie is based on a popular book series that claims that megalodon is actually not extinct, just hiding. (I’m in the 4th book).


I have a love-hate relationship with movies like this, by which I mean that I love them and I hate myself for loving them. While movies like “Jaws” had a measurable negative effect on public perception of sharks, I don’t believe that more obviously ridiculous movies like SharkNado have a similar effect.  Jason Statham playing a marine biologist in a movie that includes Rainn Wilson? Sign me up.

If not for the people who believe that these movies are real and therefore decide to yell at marine biologists on twitter about it, I’d be all for this.  Let’s be totally clear here- Carcharocles megalodon is extinct, and here’s how we know. Shark Week lied to you about it. Actresses from this movie asking about it are not experts. This movie is completely fictional. You can certainly watch it and enjoy it, but please don’t cite it as evidence that a 50 foot long whale-eating shark that used to live in shallow coastal waters near what are now populated areas is not extinct.

Anyway, here is a scene-by scene breakdown of what’s in the first trailer. From it, we can tell that this is an action-packed movie with a great cast that does not stick too closely to the books, and is also not particularly interested in scientific accuracy even with respect to issues unrelated to the “giant extinct animals are actually not extinct”central conceit.

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Seven ways the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could stop runaway climate change.

One of the big ironies of superhero comics and movies is that these beings of immense power, though committed to saving the world, do so by punching things pretty hard. Even when far more obvious solutions to world shaking challenges are presented, the question is not “what will do the most good for the most people” but “can I punch at it really, really hard?” Superman could have done far more for his adoptive home world if he used his limitless strength to turn a crank on an alternator.

Weinersmith knows what’s up.

Heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe don’t fair much better. While off avenging, sorcering, and civil warring, they’ve managed to overlook some fairly self-evident solutions to the most pressing global crisis of our time. So how could Earth’s Mightiest Heroes bring an end to runaway climate change?

1. Tony Stark creates unlimited free energy.

We can get the obvious one out of the way, first. Stark’s Arc Reactor is, for all intents and purposes, a free energy machine. Miniaturization means Arc Reactors could be used to power anything, from cars to aircraft carriers to entire cities. Switching the world’s power grid and transportation network to Arc tech would result in an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions and halt the accumulating damage of continuous energy growth as demand for technology increases around the world.

Ok, that’s the obvious one that has to be mentioned in order to avoid insufferable Twitter comments. Now on the the good stuff.

2. Use Pym Particles to sequester CO2 in the Quantum Realm. 

Pym Particles are particles that “shrink the spaces between atoms” allowing an object bombarded with these particles to shrink continuously while maintaining its mass, unless it’s a tank on a key-chain, for some reason. Comic books are ridiculous, ok?

Unfortunately, the shrinking power of Pym Particles is limitless, and once an object shrinks to the point where it’s smaller than an atom, somehow, it enters the Quantum Realm, where the laws of Newtonian physics no longer apply, time is meaningless, and you can never escape (except when you can). Shrink into the Quantum Realm and you shrink forever. That really seems like the ideal place to sequester CO2 , doesn’t it?

The big problem with carbon sequestration is that it’s not always a permanent solution. Sequestered CO2 in trees is only sequestered so long as no one cuts those trees down and burns them. The carbon is still out there in the world, waiting to be re-mobilized into the environment. But! If we could sequester carbon by bombarding it with Pym Particles and sending it to the Quantum Realm, it would shrink forever, permanently locked away in a world of very poorly interpreted quantum physics. That seems safe.

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Shiver me whiskers! What would it cost to fund the Octonauts’ undersea adventures?

Octonauts live in the sea. Hardware’s their specialty. While ocean grants are a struggle… their source of funding, it really is a puzzle!

Explore! Rescue! Protect! The Octonauts have an ambitious undersea mission and an equally ambitious fleet of marine vehicles. How they pay for it is a mystery. Are they backed by the federal government? The UN? Is Professor Inkling financing this venture by selling genetically engineered vegetable-fish hybrids? Is a billionaire film-maker backing the venture? One thing’s for certain, an Octonaut-level research program does not come cheap. So how much does this operation actually cost?

Actuaries! To your stations!

The Octopod

With 4 housing/laboratory units and a central command bay, the Octopod would be the largest and most sophisticated underwater research station ever operated. There’s nothing in the marine research world the even comes close. Aquarius Reef Base is currently the only working undersea research laboratory. I can’t find the initial budget to build and install Reef Base, but a modern (albeit unrealized) aquatic residential habitat comes with a $10 million startup costs. Reef Base itself has a wildly variable annual budget, with a baseline around $1 million per year. The Octopod, on the other hand, has four Octo… Pods? each of which is similar in function to Reef Base (though the whole structure more closely resembles the extremely French Galathée Underwater Laboratory).

Galathée Underwater Laboratory

Galathée Underwater Laboratory

The central command bay is both the core of the Octopod and its power supply. Not much is known about where the Octopod gets its seemingly limitless power, but if the Octonauts are anything like the US Navy, there’s a nuclear reactor in the, somewhere. Meet Nerwin. NR-1 was the USA’s only nuclear-powered, deep-diving research submarine. With room for 16 crew and scientists and a multi-month endurance, Nerwin could hand both covert and scientific missions. The NR-1 was equipped with a wheeled base, allowing it to roll across the sea floor. Unfortunately, NR-1 was a strictly off-book asset for most of its life, so we don’t really know what it cost, but the initial build estimate was $58.3 million. As the military is not often known for bringing projects in under budget, that seems like a reasonable baseline. For annual operating costs, we might as well assume the upper end of Reef Base at $3 million to start. It’s almost certainly much *much* higher.

Cost to build: $98.3 million.

Annual operating cost: $7 million.

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The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate

This is an update and repost of our follow-up article on the science of Aquaman, revised and expanded. 


Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1

Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1 DC Comics.

Yesterday, I challenged you to consider how the greatest hero in the DC Universe would fair if forced to survive in the real world. The result was a hypothermic, brain-dead lump of jerky with brittle bones, forced to suffer through constant screams of agony even as he consumes sea life at a rate that would impress Galactus. In short, the ocean is a rough place, even for Aquaman.

But this is Southern Fried Science, and we’re not here to trash the greatest comic book hero of all time without offering some solutions, too. I went back to my comic books and my textbooks to assemble an Aquaman with a suite of evolutionary adaptations that would allow a largely humanoid organism to rule the waves, trident triumphantly raised.

Essential assumptions

Many people commented that Aquaman is not human, he is Atlantean, and thus is not bound by human limitations. This is wrong on at least two counts. First, in most iterations, Aquaman is half-human, which means that Atlanteans must be similar enough to humans, both physiologically and evolutionarily, to produce a viable hybrid. While there may be some minor differences between us and the children of Atlantis, functionally speaking, we’re the same. Second, these are not issues that plague only humans. Whales get the bends, amphibians freeze to death, fish need to regulate their internal osmolality. These are the problems inherent in being alive in the ocean, Atlantean or otherwise.

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