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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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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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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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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Before the Lights Go Out – Alternative Energy and America’s Grid

Fossil fuels, photovoltaics, clean coal, wind turbines, hydroelectic dams, nuclear reactors, hydraulic fracturing. For all the discussions of energy independence, sustainable energy, renewable fuels, one word is often painfully absent: grid. America’s electrical grid has evolved from Edison electric generators and a few, uninsulated, wires in New York and Wisconsin to a massive, and massively inefficient, network of power lines, control stations, and generators that crisscross the country in three power blocks. This mycelial behemoth serves one function–to keep the electrons flowing. In Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us, Maggie Koerth-Baker strips the wires of the United State’s electrical grid bare, revealing how it works, how it doesn’t work, and what we can do to make it work better, increasing efficiency, decreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide production, and securing America’s energy infrastructure.

Before the Lights Go Out begins with a bold and inspired move by Koerth-Baker. By choosing to focus on the development of our energy infrastructure and the challenges inherent in the current model, she bypasses the common stumbling block of “energy crisis” arguments in the United States–the unwillingness of some groups to accept the uncontroversial recognition of anthropogenic climate change. Improving the efficiency of the grid, incorporating alternative energy sources into our infrastructure, reducing waste which cost energy producers and consumer real capital, these are not goals that require an a priori understanding of climate change to make sound economic, social, and political sense. Koerth-Baker deftly skirts around the quagmire of one of our most baffling political debates and dives straight into solutions.

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Book review: man and shark

If a picture is worth a thousand words, than Man and Shark is a must for anyone interested in shark fisheries and conservation issues. This book by Alex Hofford and Paul Hilton features a collection of incredible photographs of sharks and shark fishing from all over the planet, from the fishing ports of the developing world to the markets of Asia and the kitchens and restaurants where shark fin soup is prepared and served.  The list of 14 contributing conservation photographers features some of the world’s best.

Each chapter features a brief introduction (in both English and Mandarin Chinese) explaining key points about shark biology or conservation, followed by a series of stunning, and in some cases horrifying, photos which showcase both the diversity of living sharks and the global industrial scale of shark fisheries. Photos of finned sharks lying on the seabed paired with interviews from fisheries biologists and conservationists gets the message across concisely, directly and effectively.

Man and Shark is a passionate call for humans to change our relationship with the oceans, and I commend Paul and Alex for their excellent contribution to the world of shark conservation.

Three Stories of Shipwrecked Sailors

Last week I flew out to Salt Lake City for the bi-annual Ocean Sciences meeting, bringing together 4300 scientists from around the world to discuss the current state of the ocean and present their latest findings. To mark the occasion and pass the time on a series of long flights, I loaded my kindle with my latest addiction, Amazon singles – short form ebooks, longer than a standard article, but shorter than a full book (and really convenient for an hour layover). In honor of the Oceans meeting, the flavor of the downloaded books was disaster and survival at sea.

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Radial Symmetry – the poetry of Katherine Larson

What is it about the ocean that inspires otherwise precise and stoic scientists to cast off the shackles of structured, rigorously defined scientific language and swim, instead, through a sea of verse and meter. You can find examples littered across the internet, from Kevin Zelnio’s song lyrics featured in the Open Lab, to my own pedestrian attempts at Hardtack and Sardines. Of course, some poets rise above our amateur attempts and merge a deep understanding of the natural world with a precise eye for beauty, bringing both together in a sea of verse which stirs the soul and challenges the intellect. That is exactly what Katherine Larson has done with her first book of science-inspired poetry: Radial Symmetry.

It may seem a strange book for a marine science blog to review, but Larson, a molecular biologist by training, has captured a the spirit of scientific inquiry and the ocean in a way that few other mediums can. Her poetry evokes the thrill of discovery as well as frustration. How many practicing scientists can’t relate to Love at thirty-two degrees, a poem that begins by observing the branchial hearts of a squid,  when she announces:

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