The penultimate installment of the incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover

aquapurged5We are approaching the home stretch, with the second to last installment of our tour through this amazing Aquaman cover. Have you been following along? How many have you guessed so far?

If you haven’t been following along, you can catch up with the previous installments, below:

13. Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

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Pygmy Seahorse. Photo by Jens Petersen.

seahorseI started my career in marine science working with seahorses, so these goofy, thoroughly un-fish-like fish, hold a special place in my heart. All seahorses are pretty weird, but pygmy seahorses might be the weirdest. These tiny animals, barely 2 centimeters long, live exclusively on gorgonian corals, their lump profile allows them to blend perfectly into the backdrop. Their bulbous protrusions will assume the color of their host coral.

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The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover: Part four of a six part trilogy.

aquapurged4Welcome to day four of our delightful tour through the weird, wonderful creatures on Michael Allred’s incredible Aquaman cover. It’s all fish today!

Since we’re at the halfway point, now seems like a good time to reflect on why this cover matters so much. I’ve been a fan of Aquaman for a long time, and for all the amazing visuals in the latest iteration of our Atlantean hero, the deep sea remains noticeably underrepresented. Comic books mirror life and it is rare to see deep-sea creatures feature in art, let alone popular art. To have so many deep-sea organisms featured prominently on a piece of genre-crossing pop art is a rare and welcome opportunity to share my love for fangtooths, vampire squid, vent worms, monkfish, fringeheads, and isopods with a new and diverse audience.

Downward with the bestiary of barotollerant glory!

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The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover: Episode 2

Welcome back to another exciting installment of the incredible biodiversity of this incredible Aquaman cover. Today we’re investigating species 4 through 6, where we’ll meet one of my favorite mid-water fish.

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fangtooth4. Fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta)

With the largest tooth-length-to-body ratio of any fish, the fangtooth has earned its menacing name. Unfortunately, this intimidating creature barely reaches 18 centimeters in length, hardly the massive, Batman-swallowing maw illustrated to the right. Fangtooths are among the deepest swimming fish. They can be found as far as 5000 meters down, though they are more common in the midwater (200-2000 meters). Read More

The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman. Wow. Artist Mike Allred has seriously outdone himself with this incredible variant cover to Aquaman #31, featuring a 75th anniversary tribute to Batman as well as an incredible pastel array of deep-sea creatures. What truly amazing about this cover is that each one of these animals is a real living denizen of the deep right here, on Earth Prime. Sure, the scale might be a little off, and it’s unlikely that a scale worm could swallow a Bat-thyscaph, but the salient details are uncanny. Join me on a tour of the 18 wonderful animals featured on this sure-to-be epic installment of Aquaman’s ocean-spanning adventures. Today we’re looking at the first three, including one of my all time favorite marine organisms. Read More

Florida fisherman catches an 18 foot goblin shark, the second ever caught in the Gulf of Mexico

Last week, commercial fisherman Carl Moore was fishing for royal red shrimp off the coast of Key West Florida.  When he pulled up a net from more than 2,000 feet, Moore had caught something other than just shrimp. In his net was an unusual looking enormous fish—a goblin shark more than 18 feet long. As Moore reported to the NOAA scientist he reported his catch to, “it was uglier than a mother-in-law.”

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

This rare species of shark has only been seen in the Gulf of Mexico once before, in 2002. Though goblin sharks have been occasionally caught in the Atlantic and Indian ocean and a large group was caught in Taiwan following an undersea earthquake, most specimens have been found in the deep water canyons surrounding Japan. They are occasionally caught as bycatch in deep sea fisheries, as happened with Carl Moore. Unlike many species of shark, “they don’t have any commercial value, other than their jaws,” says Charlott Stenberg, a marine biologist and science writer. “But, I have a Japanese friend who ate some of it and thought the tongue was delicious”

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

Photo by Carl Moore, courtesy NOAA

Goblin sharks can be easily identified by their bizarre jaw, which protrudes a great deal while eating (video). The jaw of the goblin shark gives them their Japanese common name: Tenguzame, which references a mythical half human and half bird creature called Tengu. Their long, flat snout, relatively small head, and pink coloration are also distinctive. “ I love them because they’re pink, they’re mysterious, and they live deep among other cool creatures,” Stenberg says. I know many people think that they are ugly, but that just makes me love them more.”

The bottom view of a goblin shark's head and mouth, photo by Charlott Steinberg.

The bottom view of a goblin shark’s head and mouth, photo by Charlott Stenberg.

“NOAA biologists encourage people to call and report these rare sightings and catches, as the information they can collect allows them to know more about a species,” according to the official statement about this goblin shark by the National Marine Fisheries Service, After taking the photographs shown above, Carl Moore quickly released the goblin shark, which swam away.  This story spread without all of the correct information, initially resulting in several colleagues and I believing that Moore still had the shark and that it was possible to get samples for research projects. I am glad that this rare shark was released alive and reported to the proper authorities, and I will be writing a follow-up post soon explaining what to do if you catch a rare fish that does not survive. Such a specimen could benefit numerous ongoing research projects and help scientists to better understand a little-known animal.

Documenting Deep Sea Drama: Pursuing the Reality of Ocean Acidification

1Kaitlin Kovacs is a researcher for U.S. Geological Survey – Southeast Ecological Science Center. While she currently works in a deep-sea benthic ecology lab, her previous science adventures have led her to study artificial reefs in Florida, coral reef restoration in the Maldives, and coastal ecosystems in the U.S. Virgin islands. With her marine science background, Kaitlin is keen on using outreach and education to help engage local communities in marine conservation efforts.

The ideas expressed below do not represent U.S. Geological Survey.

In the cult Wes Anderson film, The Life Aquatic, there is a scene in which a documentary film maker asks the protagonist, Steve Zissou (clearly a spoof of Jacques Cousteau) what the scientific purpose of his mission to kill the endangered Jaguar shark would be. The eccentric Zissou (brilliantly portrayed by Bill Murray) answers simply, “Revenge.”

The humor here is that scientific missions are rarely so openly coupled with emotion. And yet, the quirky marine biologist does not bother to hide that he is consumed with emotion after his partner is eaten by a shark. His anger and sadness fuel his scientific objective.

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One-fifth of all known hydrothermal vents are threatened by deep-sea mining

Tube worms and anemones on the Galapagos Rift. NOAA Ocean Explorer.

Tube worms and anemones on the Galapagos Rift. Photo Credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer.

Few moments have so profoundly altered our understanding of what it means to be a living thing on Planet Earth as the discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents and the organisms that thrive around them. The first vents visited were dominated by Riftia pachyptila, the giant tube worm, whose magnificent ruby plumage parted to reveal an entire community adapted to harness the chemical energy that poured from the vents. It is almost poetic that the first vents were found on the Galapagos Rift; the same tectonic feature contributed to another great, formative moment in biology — the Voyage of the Beagle. Hydrothermal vents provided the first evidence that the sun was not the only source of energy that living organisms could harness. They opened our eyes to the potential of chemosynthesis and hinted at an ocean of unfathomable wonders waiting to be discovered.

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Namibian Government Announces 18-month Moratorium on Seabed Mining

Good news came out of Namibia last night, as the government declared an 18-month moratorium on all experimental seabed mining in Namibian waters, pending a more comprehensive environmental impact assessment. Pressure from both environmental groups and the fishing industry ultimately led to this decision. Both sets of stakeholders, as well as scientists and members of the international community, have legitimate concerns regarding the safety of seabed mining. This is the precautionary principal as it was meant to be implemented.

According to Swakopmund Matters, a seafloor mining protest group in Namibia:

The message conveyed by the Namibian decision is bold and clear. It will resonate throughout the world where battles are being fought against actions by mining companies that will harm, if not destroy, important marine areas. It will embolden all those who are standing up for the protection of their marine environments. But even more important, it will demonstrate to other governments that environmental concerns do take precedent over companies’ questionable actions when it comes to their exploitation of the oceans. Furthermore, that the Namibia government is not prepared to be a guinea pig for an untested and unknown endeavor. It refused to let its ocean and marine resources become the proverbial experimental playground.

(Source is a press release e-mailed to me.)

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Eleven Marine Organisms that would make Amazing Aquaman Villains

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Physalia physalis. Public domain.

Black Manta. Ocean Master. The Trench. Scavenger. King Shark. Toxin. The Fisherman. Aquaman has had some pretty memorable villains over the last 80 years. Also, the Fisherman. This is Southern Fried Science, a blog famous for two things – inspiring the world with our unique blend of marine science and conservation and doing horrible, horrible things to Aquaman.

Catch me flounder for I have finned. It has been 98 days since my last Aquaman is Awesome post.

Sure, Black Manta has some pretty sweet gear, a compelling back story that justifies his hatred of the Atlantean king, and he looks like he’s poised for some serious awesome during DC’s Villains Month. The Trench even appear to be able to utilize chemosynthesis, when they’re not trapping dogs in cocoons. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

That’s right. No matter how ridiculous Aquaman’s comic book foes become, you can bet all your clams I’ll find real marine organisms that would make equally amazing villains. Here’s eleven of them.

Meet Man-o-War, the colonial killer that understands the value of teamwork.

Imagine a super villain composed of thousand of individual organisms that form one giant super-organism. Rather than a body filled with vital organs, this villain can take massive damage without a loss of ‘self’, only to spawn new minions to replaced the damaged parts. Now give this deadly foe 60-foot long venom-filled tentacles whose sting brings excruciating pain. Such a villain would certainly assume the identity ‘Man-o-War’.

The Portuguese Man-o-War (Physalia physalis), arguably the best known of the siphonophores (it is a cnidarian, but it is not a jellyfish) possess tentacles that unleash an unbelievably painful sting, the weapon of choice for our newest menace. But the weapon does’t make the man (o-war), and our villain has a strategic secret. Man-o-Wars are not singular animals, they are a colony of highly specialized polyps — each one an individual animal that combines to form a deadly super-organism.

The pneumatophore is a polyp the creates a gas-filled bladder for flotation. This produces the distinctive ‘sail’ of the Man-o-War, a bilaterally symmetric air sac that allows the colonial to remain at the surface and provides some propulsion by catching the wind. The sail is not just a sac of air, it also has defensive capabilities. When attacked, the sail is able to deflate, allowing the colony to sink below the surface and avoid predators. The gonozooids, which occur in tight clusters, are responsible for reproduction. Man-o-Wars engage in both asexual and sexual reproduction. Young colonies can reproduce clonally by budding, but as the colony becomes more mature, that gonozooids become sexually differentiated and release eggs and sperm to form new colonies. The gastrozooid takes care of all the digestion-related needs and surround the dastardly dactylozooids. Finally, the dactylozooids produce 10-meter (or longer!) tentacles that capture prey and drag them towards the gastrozooids. This is some serious teamwork.

Man-o-War even has minions. The shepherd fish is immune t the stinging tentacles and hangs out within the tentacles. The fish gains the protection of its lethal ally while the Man-o-War gets to use the shepherd fish as bait to lure other fish into its deadly trap.

Imagine Aquaman facing off against a colony of polyps that combine to form a deadly super-organism with massive stinging tentacles. Siphonophores have no nervous system, so Aquaman’s fish-talking power are useless. No matter how many dactylozooids, gatrozooids, and pneumatophores he destroyed, the gonozooids are there, churning out more.

But Man-o-Wars are not without their own predators, the largest of which is the enormous, cnidarian nom nom-ing Leatherback Turtle. Despite their size, leatherbacks are the largest live sea turtle, they survive exclusively on large numbers of jelly-like organisms — to the tune of the equivalent of eating 16 cucumbers per day. Leatherbacks aren’t the only animals that prey on Man-o-War, the salacious siphonophore has many foes, two of which join this list as super-villains in their own right.

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