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

Reviews and InterviewsSeptember 16, 2016

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.



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

Book Review, Education, Popular Culture, Reviews and InterviewsSeptember 15, 2016


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.  (more…)

Applications now open for the Elasmobranch Society’s diversity in marine science initiative

Academic life, Education, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world's oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world’s oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s oldest and largest professional society focusing on the scientific study and management of sharks and their relatives, is now welcoming applications for the 2nd year of our Young Professional Recruitment Fund diversity initiative. Awardees will be given one year of Society membership, in addition to specialized professional development training, mentorship, and networking opportunities specific to their needs as scientists and professionals from developing nations or historically underrepresented minority groups.

Applications, which can be found here, are due by 5 P.M. U.S. eastern standard time on Tuesday, November 15th. All winners will be notified by Friday, December 16th.

To be eligible for a Young Professional Recruitment Fund award, applicants must fill out the application and demonstrate that they:


The 2016 presidential candidates address ocean issues (sort of).

Conservation, Environmentalism, policySeptember 13, 2016

Finally, after almost a year of silence, we have concrete responses from the leading presidential candidate about ocean health and, in particular, the state of America’s fisheries. Well, sort of., a non-partisan science advocacy group, asked the four leading candidates a slew of 20 science-related questions, including the following about ocean health:

“There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?”

Gary Johnson and Donald Trump declined to answer (Johnson declined to answer any question, Trump’s submitted boilerplate copy that makes no mention of the oceans or any ocean issue).

Jill Stein’s succinct response acknowledged the problems that overfishing, climate change, and ocean plastics pose to the oceans, but provides no specific policy recommendations.  (more…)

How to follow along with CITES #COP17 on twitter

biodiversity, Conservation, Natural Science, ScienceSeptember 10, 2016

cop17_rhino_hpOn September 24th, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) begins. I’ve made a Storify guide to government agencies, scientists, activists, and environmental non-profits who will be tweeting updates from the event. If you want to follow along with these important conservation debates and votes on twitter, follow #COP17 and follow the accounts I’ve highlighted in this Storify.


Fun Science FRIEDay – Drug Resistant Bacteria, The Movie

biology, evolution, Fun Science FridaySeptember 9, 2016

In today’s FSF we bring you both a jaw dropping, and somewhat terrifying cinematic visualization of how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, and overtime can become super bugs immune to any antibiotic treatment.  A concise and detailed description is presented below:

This stunning video of evolution in action captures how bacteria with no resistance to an antibiotic can in a very short time become resistant to concentrations of more than a thousand times the initial concentration. Other scientists have documented this phenomenon before, but never with such vivid clarity as that provided by Michael Bay and Roy Kishony of Harvard University.


Fun Science FRIEDay – Shark Daycare

biology, Conservation, ecology, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural Science, sharks, UncategorizedSeptember 2, 2016

A great white shark nursery in the North Atlantic that was discovered in 1985 south of Cape Cod in the waters off Montauk, New York  has received renewed attention due to the increased activity of white sharks off cape cod in recent years. The nursery was first documented in 1985 by Casey and Pratt who deduced the presence of a nursery based on the number of juvenile sightings and landings in the area. This work was followed up recently  by OCEARCH (an organization dedicated to generating scientific data related to tracking/telemetry and biological studies of keystone marine species such as great white sharks), which tagged and tracked nine infant great whites to the nursery, located a few miles off Montauk.

Great White Shark. Image courtesy

Great White Shark. Image courtesy

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons.

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons.








Look at your sharks: how close observation leads to new scientific discoveries

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksAugust 31, 2016

Josh Moyer Head ShotJoshua Moyer is an ichthyologist specializing in the evolution, biodiversity, and morphology of sharks and their relatives, collectively known as elasmobranchs. He is a member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) and the American Elasmobranch Society (AES). He has co-authored multiple scientific articles about shark teeth and their roles in understanding elasmobranch evolution. Joshua earned his Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and teaches evolutionary biology at Ithaca College. Joshua also routinely lectures in courses on marine biology, vertebrate biology, and elasmobranchs. He has co-taught courses in shark biology in the field, laboratory, classroom, and most recently the online course “Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation.”

Whenever I tell someone that I study sharks I can see their imagination shift into high gear. Their eyebrows go up, their mouths make an intrigued smile, and I’m usually asked whether I’ve gone swimming with sharks or if I’ve ever been bitten by one. Yes, I’ve been in the water with sharks. No, a shark has never bitten me (although I did drop the jaw of a Mako shark on my arm once – that left an interesting scar). I’ve also gone on shark tagging trips and many spent days as an undergraduate documenting the social behaviors of sharks in aquaria. Those are what I call my “dinner party stories.” They’re the anecdotes people expect to hear from a shark biologist. I’m frequently happy to oblige. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that oceanic adventures are not essential to being a shark biologist, and they’re no substitute for curiosity and educated observation. In other words, you may see a shark, but you need to know how to really look at it – how to study it.


Death by Renaissance Faire

Climate change, climate historyAugust 30, 2016

I am a big fan of Renaissance Faires and Festivals – I have a sizeable collection of pirate hats, doublets and billowy shirts and even a pair of thigh-length boots that would make Blackbeard envious. But whenever I go to a Renn Faire at this time of year and see the clientele dressed up in full Tudor formal dress, I worry about their immediate expiration from massive heat stroke.

Renn Fest


Scientific literature needs discipline – an example from a killer whale life expectancy study

Science publishingAugust 23, 2016

If you let a puppy piddle on the carpet without discipline, it will keep doing it. It will grow into a big dog that destroys your carpeting and rugs and makes your whole house stink.

So it is with scientific literature.


We all know bad papers are out there. When you read them, you’re left scratching your head and wondering, “How on earth did these pass peer-review?” Worse still, there are “ugly” science articles, where the scientific method goes by the wayside and data are cherry-picked, misinterpreted or manipulated to justify a political or ideological agenda or to undermine science that interferes with that agenda.


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