The 3 best ocean books for toddlers, as selected by a very ocean-savvy toddler

It’s been almost exactly a year since I selected the 5 best baby books to launch your child’s ocean education. Since then, our expert judge has gotten a bit more discerning and a lot more opinionated. As a family of marine scientists, our massive library of ocean-themed children’s books, some amazing, some not-so-amazing, seems to grow exponentially.

After critical review by two PhDs in Marine Science and Conservation and one very perspicacious toddler, for both scientific accuracy and pure delightfulness, here are our top 3 children’s books to get your toddler thinking about the ocean.

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The Holy Grail of the portable hardware-hacking lab: A cordless soldering iron that actually works.

This is a mess. This isn’t even everything I brought for Make for the Planet.

All electronics kits are not created equal. Between the OpenROV, Oceanography for Everyone, and hack-a-thons around the world, my work has taken me out of the lab and into the field, fantail, and classroom to build instruments, hack oceanographic equipment, and train next generation of open-science oceanographers. This has placed a huge new demand on my standard kit, a collection of electronics and hardware tools and components that allow a creative maker to build anything, anywhere. Portability is key, but portability comes with it’s own challenges, especially for that most vital of electronics tools, the humble, powerful soldering iron.

A good soldering iron is absolutely critical to the kinds of projects and workshops I run. Without it, we can to the delicate electronics work necessary for getting a piece of equipment working in the field. But traveling with soldering irons is a nightmare. These high-wattage devices don’t always play nice with local electrical infrastructure. Even using the *right* power converters we’ve blown fuses and burned out power supplies. In the best case scenarios, the irons just don’t produce enough heat to get the job done. In remote regions, local options are often non-existent. When we go, we bring everything with us.

There are portable soldering irons, but they have their own problems. Gas-powered irons require a fuel source that may not be easily obtained and are not always welcome on flights. They also lack the fine control we need. Electric options tend to be of the “cold heat” variety, which is a poor tool for circuit board work and can generate a current that burns out components and shorts your project. Heat-based electric soldering irons are weak, short-lived, and often utterly ineffective. I resigned myself to lugging large soldering stations around the world, hoping for the best when it comes to finding an adequate power supply.

And then I discovered the Hakko FX-901Read More

Trying to debunk the aquatic ape hypothesis… or not. Or the day I tried to defend David Attenborough.

The so-called aquatic ape hypothesis is one that has attracted a lot of attention and much derision. In 1960, British marine biologist Alistair Hardy posited the idea that humans might once have had an aquatic phase (or more accurately a semi-aquatic phases, spending some time in a watery habitat but a significant amount of time on land). This was picked up highlighted in popular zoologist Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape . However, Elaine Morgan was one of the the hypothesis’ main promoters, writing a book called The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis . There have been several debunkers of the hypothesis including Southern Fried Sciences’ own David Shiffman although Jim Moore’s website is probably one of the most comprehensive debunking sites for the hypothesis . Today Alice Roberts and Mark Maslin posted a critique of the aquatic ape hypothesis, mostly in response to a new BBC radio series The Waterside Ape which is being presented by David Attenborough.

attenborough

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5 best baby books to launch your child’s ocean education.

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As a few of you have noticed, we recently added a tiny new member to our little ocean outreach empire. A new baby opens up a chance for us to explore a whole new world of ocean-themed content tailored to our newest explorers. As a family of marine biologists, we very quickly accumulated a massive library of ocean-themed baby books, some amazing, some not-so-amazing.

After critical review by two PhDs in Marine Science and Conservation, for both scientific accuracy and pure delightfulness, here are my top 5 baby books to get your ocean education started off right.

biggestI’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry.

Sherry must have written this book specifically for me, since Sizing ocean giants: patterns of intraspecific size variation in marine megafauna is already my most widely distributed paper. I know a few things about giant squids. I really love this book. The art is colorful and engaging. The story has a hilarious twist. It’s grounded in real ocean critters (though there’s something funky going on with that jellyfish). And there’s an important lesson about hubris and trophic position in marine food webs.  Read More

Book review: the marine mammal observer’s handbook

I agree with Dr Phil Clapham, who provided the forward for the “Marine mammal observer and passive acoustic monitoring handbook” (by V. Todd, I. Todd, J. Gardner & E. Morin): the title is a bit of a mouthful. Therefore, I will refer to the book by the abbreviated title above. That said, this is a really useful book that I’ve found myself reaching for on several occasions when needing to look something up.

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Shark Week 2014: documentary reviews, tweets, and media coverage

Another Shark Week has come and gone, and despite being out of the country at the time, I’ve managed to keep up my record of never having missed a single Shark Week documentary. I gotta tell you, though, some of them are really hard to watch. While there there is undoubtedly some great educational programming focusing on science, natural history and conservation, the Discovery Channel is doubling down on the troubling recent trend of blatantly lying to viewers with fake documentaries that use actor playing scientists and CGI video. In a time when public misunderstanding and distrust of science and scientists is already high, the Discovery Channel has decided to actively perpetuate misunderstanding and distrust of science and scientists. I’ve included my reviews (which originally were posted on my Facebook page after each show) of each of the documentaries below, along with a link to the Storify of my twitter reactions and links to some of the media coverage.

Upwell held another successful Sharkinar, bringing together scientists, conservationists, communicators and educators to talk about how “Team Ocean” can best take advantage of the increased public interest in sharks during Shark Week. Indeed, many members of Team Ocean were able to use the temporary increase in public interest in sharks to get important messages out to the media, and I’ve linked to and summarized some of the best examples below, but imagine how much more effective we could be if we didn’t have to first debunk the lies aired on a supposedly educational non-fiction television channel?

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Book review: are dolphins really smart?

melMel Cosentino obtained her Degree in Environmental Biology at the Universidad de Málaga (Spain) and her MRes in Applied Marine and Fisheries Ecology at the University of Aberdeen (UK). She has been involved in cetacean research since 1998, starting as a volunteer for Fundación Orca Patagonia-Antártida in Argentina (her country of birth) working in educational campaigns against killer whale captivity. Since then she has participated in several research projects in Spain, Portugal and Norway.  Mel has conducted field work, both from land and at sea, focused on different cetacean species, including killer whales, Risso’s dolphins and Northern bottlenose whales. In addition, she participated in the Annual meeting of the IWC as part of the Luxembourgish delegation, both in 2011 and 2012.

 

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatsoever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible” (Bertrand Russell)

gregg bookThis is how the book “Are dolphins really smart?” by Dr. Justin Gregg starts. It has been recently published and it is available in several countries, including the US and the UK. Moreover there have been a large number of newspaper and web stories based on the conclusions of the book, most along the lines of “dolphins are no smarter than chickens” “Flipper is a thug!” and “dolphins are dumb” This led to a rebuttal article published in Southern Fried Science when David Shiffman interviewed the author and some cetacean scientists about the media frenzy spawned by the book’s release. Studying animal cognition is no easy task, and Dr. Gregg has put together a great amount of information; however, I believe the reader will be confused and misled by some of the comments and statements made by the author, a scientist who holds a PhD and who claims to be analysing the evidence “as impartially as possible with a sincere desire to let objectivity take centre stage”.

It would be impossible to critique the thesis of the book point by point, so I have compiled the topics I consider to be more problematic.

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What to read while you’re at sea: Southern Fried Science’s favorite ebooks for a multi-month research cruise

AndrewThumbUntil March 9, 2013, I’ll be at sea. I love that phrase. At sea. For this expedition, we’re leaving from Jamaica, returning to Antigua, and spending several days on a research program separate from ours. I have a lot of travel and a little downtime to look forward to. When I started going to sea almost a decade ago, this meant that I carried a couple books and dozens of research papers, and traded them around with the rest of the science team, the crew, and the ship’s library.

Now, thanks to kindles and other e-readers, I can carry entire libraries with me, loading them up with all the books I want to read and stockpiling thousands of research papers. This. Is. Awesome.

So, if you find yourself with a kindle and a long stretch of travel time, consider checking out some of my favorite ebooks. I’ve read  all of these over the last year and they all look great on an e-reader. This reading list should keep you occupied during the quieter moments of your travels.

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An interview with Kool Kid Kreyola of “Me and My Shark Fin”

davesquareLast summer, shark conservation got an interesting new voice. Kool Kid Kreyola, a California-based painter and musician, took the ocean twitterverse by storm with “Me and My Shark Fin”. This video, a clever parody of Jay Z and Beyonce’s “Bonnie and Clyde” , told the story of shark fin soup… from the perspective of a shark.

Kreyola agreed to participate in an interview with me. If you have any follow-up questions, please post them in the comments section below, and I’ll make sure that he sees them.

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Books reviews: read up on sharks and grouper before the AES/ASIH meeting

In just three weeks, the American Elasmobranch Society and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists will hold their annual meeting. This year, it will take place in Vancouver, British Columbia as part of the World Herpetology Congress. I’ll be presenting, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of our readers there. Those of you who will be attending this conference, as well as anyone with an interest in sharks and other marine fishes, may be interested in these great new marine science books!

1. Groupers of the world: a field and market guide (by Matthew Craig, Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, and Phillip Heemstra). Grouper are some of the most economically important fish in the ocean, and it’s important that scientists, managers, and eco-conscious consumers have access to the latest scientific and conservation information about these fish. As fisheries landings have increased greatly in recent years (the 300,000 tons landed in 2008 are 10 times the landings from the 1950’s), many species are rapidly declining in population. Recent research showed that 12% of known grouper species are Threatened (Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered according to IUCN Red List standards) and another 13% are Near Threatened. Mating behaviors like spawning aggregations and the tendency to change sex further complicates management.

In addition to introducing readers to the field and summarizing the latest scientific discoveries, this book serves as a detailed reference guide to the 163 known species of grouper. The authors demonstrate how to identify each species using more than 300 beautiful color photographs and line drawings,  and detailed maps show where each can be found. The population status (including major threats and some proposed solutions), IUCN Red List conservation status, life history information and known feeding behavior is also reviewed for each species. $79.95, CRC Press.

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