What can be done to protect the incredibly long-lived Greenland shark?

fisheries, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksAugust 16, 2016

Sonja Fordham President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham
President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010 based on her two decades of shark conservation experience at  Ocean Conservancy.  She is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society, has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management, and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays.  Her awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.

1A new study confirming the mysterious deepsea Greenland Shark as the world’s longest lived vertebrate has made huge news in the last few days – from Science News and BBC to People magazine and the Wall Street Journal. While some scientists are questioning whether these sharks live quite as long as estimated (392 years ± 120), most agree they could well live for a century or two and – as a result —  are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Experts also warn that risks to Greenland sharks may be increasing as melting sea ice changes Arctic ecosystems and makes fishing in the region more feasible. Study authors are among those urging a precautionary approach to the species’ conservation. In other words, an incomplete picture of status and threats should not be used as an excuse for inaction. So what might be threatening Greenland sharks today, and which upcoming policy opportunities might warrant consideration, given worldwide interest in these jaw-dropping findings?  To come up with some ideas, I first took a look back.


Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Exploration wants to be shared

Blogging, Conservation, Environmentalism, Oceanography for Everyone, Open ScienceAugust 11, 2016

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act II: Transforming the Narrative.


Now I want to shift gears and look towards the future, where we’re going, and what tools are available to help us get there. Because the future of ocean outreach, and really the future of ocean conservation, comes down to this one concept: “Exploration wants to be shared”.


Sealand courtesy the Daily Beast

The online ocean ecosystem is full of platforms–preexisting tools that allow us to produce, share, broadcast, enhance, and manage our outreach campaigns. Not just the obvious ones like Twitter and Facebook, but more niche tools like Slack, github, Ushahidi, medium, and yes, even PokemonGo, or if you want something a bit more serious, consider R as something that’s not just a statistics package, but a way to share your own software and data with the scientific community.


Dying for Reason in the Rational Utopia

Conservation, Environmentalism, Popular Culture, Science FictionAugust 10, 2016

When Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed his “Rationalia” thought experiment several months ago, I thought is was cute but misguided. Now that he’s doubled down on the concept, I can see exactly why it is such a naively flawed idea. Rationalia would be a disaster for conservation. This short science fiction story illustrates why.


“Oyez, oyez, oyez!  This, the 107th session of the 16th Superior District Court, is hereby gavelled to order. Please be seated.”

Cope Johns remained standing. He surveyed the crowd, an odd assortment of bystanders, tourists, and his few supporters. Chief Justice Carlsson entered the hall, climbed onto his podium, and looked down on the assembled masses. Somewhere amid the crush of bodies, an elderly lawyer took his seat. All eyes turned to him. He timidly rose to his feet.

“Today we hear Dr. Cope Johns, on behalf of the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), versus the Free Republic of Rationalia. Make note that, as evidence suggests that timeliness is required in this decision, we have elected to expedite deliberations. The court has been briefed extensively on this case and requires no additional background. Dr. Johns, your opening statement?”

Cope approached the stand. The bailiff placed his left hand on the near-field ID scanner, confirming his identity. Cope raised his right hand to nothing and swore under his breath.

“Thank you, your honor. The Vaquita is a tiny porpoise that has been on the verge of extinction for the better part of a century. Its only remaining habitat is in the Gulf of Reason, where the Free Republic of Rationalia intends to establish the Lost Lobos tidal energy farm. This farm will displace the Vaquita breeding grounds and will likely drive the species over the brink to extinction.” (more…)

Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Transforming the Narrative

#OceanOptimism, #SciComm, Blogging, Conservation, Personal Stories

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act I: Science is Storytelling. 


In Act I I discussed the underlying structure that frames narrative storytelling, but now I want to talk about how we can use the tools available to us on the internet to transform that narrative into something even more potent.

But before we can do that I have to tilt at some windmills.


When we talk about good outreach, we often look to people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like Bill Nye, like David Attenborough, and like Carl Sagan. These are the paragons of scientific outreach, the icons that we often hold up as examples for what constitutes good outreach. We talk about things like Cosmos, both Sagan’s and deGrasse Tyson’s, Bill Nye the Science Guy and his more recent work combating climate change, or David Attenborough and his astounding Nature Documentaries. (more…)

Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Science is Storytelling

#SciComm, Blogging, EducationAugust 9, 2016

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow. 


Good morning and thank you all for coming, especially this early after a long week of conferencing. What I want to do today is talk a little bit about the history of online outreach, talk about how to build effective outreach campaigns, and look towards the future to think about how new technologies are shaping and reshaping the ways in which we think about public engagement with science and conservation.

Picture3So science is storytelling. Sometimes that story an adventure. Sometimes it’s a mystery. Sometimes it’s the dense and weighty exposition of Ulysses and sometimes it’s the absurdity of Finnegan’s Wake, but it is always a story. (more…)

Everything you need to know about working in conservation you can learn from Game of Thrones

Academic life, Conservation, Science Life

Learned scholars and respected leaders of society warn that a major environmental change is coming and everyone should prepare. However, heads of state, politicians and wealthy oligarchs argue and bicker, more interested in riches and power than the imminent threat. Some realize that the oncoming change will be accompanied by a host of problems, to which no one has given the necessary consideration. Those who understand the situation try to set up systems to protect against this threat but are constantly having to argue with, and even fight, their own allies. In the end, just as some progress is being made, one of the champions of these vital preparations is stabbed through the heart by his closest colleagues, who stage a coup instead of dealing with the oncoming threat.

Sound familiar? It is of course the plot of Game of Thrones, but could also be a history of most conservation issues, whether it be the threat of DDT, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss or climate change. (more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – Glaciers Lost in Time

UncategorizedJuly 29, 2016

Human induced climate change is real. It feels weird that I have to say that, but the overwhelming body of evidence suggest human activity post the industrial revolution is having irrevocable damage on our environment. One of the major implications of climate change is the loss of the polar glaciers (and subsequent sea level rise).

Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University photographed glaciers in east Greenland in 2010 from the same vantage point used by scientists in 1933. Below you can contrast the images from the Mittivakkat and Tunu glaciers to see how much the two glaciers have retreated due to the warming climate (Photo Credit: Natural History Museum of Denmark; Hans Henrik Tholstrup/Natural History Museum of Denmark).

The Mittivakkat Glacier

The Mittivakkat Glacier in 1933.

The Mittivakkat Glacier in 1933.


Join us at the International Marine Conservation Congress!

#SciCommJuly 27, 2016

A plurality of Southern Fried Science writers will be attending the 2016 International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Expect updates to be infrequent here through early August.

Follow along at the conference hashtag #IMCC4 or follow me, Amy, David, and Chris on twitter on this adventure.

An environmental educator’s field guide to Pokémon Go.

#SciComm, EducationJuly 19, 2016

Pokémon Go is officially a thing.

In the last week, this game has outpaced even Google Maps in number of downloads. It has more daily active users than Twitter. Its user retention rate is astronomical. It is either a herald of the end of western capitalism or a huge boom for small businesses. People are going outside, exploring their neighborhoods, finding dead bodies, walking off cliffs, experiencing nature, getting robbed, making new friends, and getting shot at.

It is the best of tech. It is the worst of tech. Or maybe, it’s just tech, and people can interact with technology in as many ways as there are Pokémon to be found.

Last week, I wrote a brief introduction to this phenomenon, which I won’t rehash here.

But of course, the big question emerging within the sphere of environmental educators is “how can we capitalize on Pokémon Go to engage with the public on environmental issues?”

After spending more time with the app, and focusing on specific features that can facilitate environmental education, I have five suggestions.  (more…)

Fun Science FRIEDay – Open-Acess Science for the Masses

Citizen Science, Fun Science Friday, marine science, Natural Science, oceanography, Oceanography for Everyone, Open Science, UncategorizedJuly 15, 2016

The oceans belong to all of us. With this simple statement in mind, the Oceanography for Everyone (OfE) project was launched with the goal of making ocean science more accessible. One of the biggest hurdles in conducting ocean science is instrumentation costs, and 4 years ago the OfE team began trying to make one of the most basic ocean science tools, the CTD (a water quality sensor that measures Conductivity-Temperature-Depth), cheaper… much, much cheaper!


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