#JacquesWeek returns! Falling glaciers, fish that don’t eat plastic, sharks and the women who study them, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: July 16, 2018

Foghorn (A Call to Action!)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Fishermen with an illegal haul of totoaba. Image courtesy of Elephant Action League.

Photo: Toby Driver (RCAHMW)

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A new Gulf oil spill, opposition to deep-sea mining, DIY drop cameras, and more! Massive Monday Morning Salvage: October 30, 2017

I’ve been away for 2 weeks, so it’s a super-massive edition of the Monday Morning Salvage!

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Sampling SMS under the sea Photo: Nautilus Minerals

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web)

Hey, Andrew, how about you give us at least *some* good news today? Ok, fine.

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The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate

This is an update and repost of our follow-up article on the science of Aquaman, revised and expanded. 


Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1

Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1 DC Comics.

Yesterday, I challenged you to consider how the greatest hero in the DC Universe would fair if forced to survive in the real world. The result was a hypothermic, brain-dead lump of jerky with brittle bones, forced to suffer through constant screams of agony even as he consumes sea life at a rate that would impress Galactus. In short, the ocean is a rough place, even for Aquaman.

But this is Southern Fried Science, and we’re not here to trash the greatest comic book hero of all time without offering some solutions, too. I went back to my comic books and my textbooks to assemble an Aquaman with a suite of evolutionary adaptations that would allow a largely humanoid organism to rule the waves, trident triumphantly raised.

Essential assumptions

Many people commented that Aquaman is not human, he is Atlantean, and thus is not bound by human limitations. This is wrong on at least two counts. First, in most iterations, Aquaman is half-human, which means that Atlanteans must be similar enough to humans, both physiologically and evolutionarily, to produce a viable hybrid. While there may be some minor differences between us and the children of Atlantis, functionally speaking, we’re the same. Second, these are not issues that plague only humans. Whales get the bends, amphibians freeze to death, fish need to regulate their internal osmolality. These are the problems inherent in being alive in the ocean, Atlantean or otherwise.

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The horrifying physiological and psychological consequences of being Aquaman

This is an update and repost of our seminal article on the science of Aquaman, revised and expanded. 


Aquaman. DC Comics.

Aquaman. DC Comics. A rational response to seal poaching is to lob a polar bear at the aggressors.

Aquaman may not be everybody’s favorite superhero, but since his creation in 1941, he has been among DC’s most enduring icons. During the Golden Age of comics, he held his own against Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Silver Age Aquaman was a founding member and eventually leader of the Justice League. His powers, tied to the ocean, forced writers to create a compelling, complex hero with explicit limitations. In the early days, when Superman’s strength was practically infinite, and Batman’s brilliance was unmatched, Aquaman had to become more than just a superhero, he had to be a person.

If Superman existed to show us how high the human spirit could fly, and Batman to show us the darkness within even our most noble, Aquaman is here to show us the world that triumphs in our absence. The ocean is not ours, and no matter how great our technology, we will never master it as we have mastered land. Aquaman has. Through this lonely ocean wanderer, we can experience a world that we can never truly command. In many ways, Aquaman was stronger than the Man of Steel and darker than the Dark Knight. He knew loneliness that the orphan and the alien exile never could.

Even though Aquaman had to fight harder, endure the jokes of other, less interesting heroes, and find relevance in an ecosystem hostile to the humans that had to empathize with him, Aquaman was never forced to confront the truly horrifying consequences of life in the ocean.

The penetrating cold

Aquaman is, for all intents and purposes, a marine mammal. With the exception of a healthy mane in later incarnations, he is effectively hairless. As a human, we would expect his internal body temperature to hover around 99°F, or about 37°C. Even at its warmest points, the surface temperature of the ocean around the equator is only about 80°F/27°C. At the poles, ocean temperature can actually drop a few degrees below freezing. In the deep sea, ambient temperature levels out around 2 to 4°C. The ocean is cold, and water is a much better thermal conductor than air. Warm blooded species have evolved many different systems to manage these gradients, including countercurrent heat exchangers, insulating fur, and heavy layers of blubber. This is what a marine mammal that can handle cold waters look like:

Elephant Seal. NSF, photo by Mike Usher

Aquaman is not just a human, he is an atypically uninsulated human. If the man has more than 2% body fat, I’d be shocked. In contrast, warm-water bottlenose dolphins have at least 18 to 20% body fat. Anyone who SCUBA dives knows that, even with a 12 millimeter neoprene wet suit, after a few hours in 80°F water, you get cold. Aquaman, lacking any visible insulation, should have slipped into hypothermia sometime early in More Fun Comics #73. He is built for the beach rather than the frigid deep.

Jason Momoa is not a man blessed with an over-abundance of “bioprene”.

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#IAmSeaGrant, Octopus Beats Dolphins, Deep-sea Mining, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: May 29, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

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Terraforming Mars on Earth, giant larvaceans, conservation jobs, and more! Monday Morning Salvage: May 8, 2017

Fog Horn (A Call to Action)

Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)

Seabirds on Ascension Island. Photo by Clare Fieseler.

Jetsam (what we’re enjoying from around the web)

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Release the Karaqan! How does Aquaman’s latest foe stack up against real ocean giants?

Aquaman #27. DC Comics.

Aquaman #27. DC Comics.

It’s been more than 2 months since we last discussed the patron saint of Southern Fried Science, the one and only Aquaman. The Atlantean übermensch has a new lead writer, Jeff Parker, who’s teamed up with Aquaman veteran Paul Pelletier to produce an engaging and visually stunning story. After the epic conclusion to Throne of Atlantis, Aquaman is off on an entirely new adventure. Unfortunately, this new quest puts our hero in the path of a gargantuan guardian of ancient Atlantis, the Karaqan!

The Karaqan is big, but just how big is it? How does the Karaqan stack up against living sea creatures? Could an arthropod ever get as big as the Karaqan? Most important, if Aquaman does successfully slay the Karaqan, just how much Old Bay would we need to steam it?

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Was Aquaman quietly saving the world during Man of Steel?

Man of Steel was a thoroughly entertaining superhero movie and a serviceable Superman movie. Fortunately, the last son of Krypton was not the only super-powered being saving the world, as the king of Atlantis was hanging out, cleaning up ol’ Kal-El’s mess.

It has been 98 days since our last Aquaman is Awesome post. We’re due.

Arthur Curry’s presence is first felt near the beginning, while a scruffy Clark is trying his best impression of Jack Kerouac auditioning for Deadliest Catch. Pre-Supes can’t help but hurl himself at a burning oil rig, rescue the roughnecks, and then keep derrick from collapsing on a hapless helicopter. Explosion. We cut to some Kansas flashbacks. Mr. Soupy floats in the water. Pan up and, inexplicably, there’s a couple of humpback whales just chilling, amidst the carnage of a collapsing oil rig,  having a casual sing-in. No doubt those whales are having a chat with a rogue Atlantean, swimming somewhere off screen. He’s probably making sure that the Caped Clam Chowder doesn’t ruin his handy work.

Because, obviously, Aquaman was the one who knocked out that oil rig. I said he was saving the world, not saving humanity. That’s Crab Bisque’s gig.

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Aquaman is back!

headshot-thalerSMALLLong-time readers know that I am a dedicated fan of the one true king of Atlantis, Arthur Curry–Aquaman. Since his reboot in DC Comic’s New 52 series, Aquaman has risen above the Justice League pantheon, casually crushing his critics with humor, style, and pure, aquatic power. My original plan was to review the marine science in Aquaman, but, since the Trench, our hero has spent relatively little time in the sea. We can forgive that. Between protecting his old gang, the Others, from arch-nemesis Black Manta, and saving the surface dwellers while reclaiming his crown in Throne of Atlantis, Mr. Curry has been quite busy.

Now, with Aquaman #17, it looks like things are about to change.

littleaqua

“I won’t fail you again.” Aquaman #17. DC Comics.

So, this is pretty much my all time favorite piece of comic book art. I love that so many invertebrates get starring roles–colossal squid, octopuses, crustaceans of all sorts. I love that whales are relegated to the background, dolphins are barely more than shadows, and elasmobranchs other than sharks are prominently featured. Artists Paul Pelletier and Art Thebert did a fantastic job creating an ocean biodiversity tableau that shuns the Wyland-esque tropes characteristic of the genre. This is a tough, gritty Aquaman. His ocean is not all sunsets and dolphins.

This also settles the longstanding debate about Aquaman’s telepathy. Aquaman talks to fish. Whether they talk back is a different story.

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