Lionfishing, Green Crabbing, and Carp Dunking: Southern Fried Science Book Club, week 3

First off, let me just say, that invasive Asian Carp really do jump out of the water and whack people in the face.

Of all the chapters we’ve read so far, these three were the first that really made me want to try eating invasive species. Maybe it’s because I’m an ocean person, but those fish sounded delicious.

The lionfish chapter was especially intriguing, since I spent a lot of time on the southern tip of Eleuthera during 2001, though I don’t recall ever seeing a single lionfish. I do remember lionfish from the coast of North Carolina, where they’ve taken hold and now completely dominate the local shipwrecks. Lionfish are a nightmare. They have no predators in Atlantic waters. They are extremely fecund. They are voracious generalists, happy to eat anything that fits in their mouths. Most worrying, they can’t be fished via conventional means. Lionfish don’t take the bait, they have to be speared, but they also occur at depths of greater then 200 meters, well beyond any recreation SCUBA or freediving limits.

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Sharks aren’t always the top of the food chain

Most people think of sharks as being apex predators, large, fearsome  hunters sitting right at the top of the ocean food chain.  Of course, that isn’t always the case. There are more than 500 known species of sharks, and they vary in size from the size of a pencil to the size of a school bus. In many cases, there’s a larger predator in their environment, which can lead to some surprising and amazing  interactions.

A crocodile ate a bull shark

Brutus, a famous crocodile in Australia, was recently photographed eating a juvenile bull shark. Southern Fried Science writer Sarah Keartes has the full story at EarthTouch.

Photo by Andrew Paice

Photo by Andrew Paice

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About those lionfish

We’ve been monitoring the situation surrounding a south Florida lionfish study that’s been blowing up the headlines thanks to a feel-good story about a young student’s science fair project and a subsequent controversy surrounding a former grad student who feels slighted for having his name left out of the research. We decided not to comment on it while the story unfolded and wove its way through a dozen twist and turns.

Rather than rehashing events now, I point you to Spiny media battle highlights importance of scientific credit by Bethany Brookshire and If a 12-year-old’s “breakthrough” sounds too good to be true… by Tara Haelle as the most comprehensive and authoritative dissections of this unfortunate chain of events.

DiveTracks: because we can’t talk underwater

We’re happy to announce a new experiment in our ongoing effort with casual video adventures. We take short videos from one of our SCUBA diving adventures, watch them together, and do a running commentary about whatever issues, topics, and stories emerge during the video. There’s just two rules – neither of us can have watched the entire video more than once and the discussion must be completely unscripted. DiveTracks, because we can’t talk underwater.

Watch our very first episode, here:

But we don’t want this to be the David and Andrew show. No, no, no. We want you, our loyal readers, to submit your own underwater videos for us to discuss. Feel free to e-mail me or David if you would like to contribute to DiveTracks.

Mermaids do not exist, and five other important things people should, but do not, know about the ocean

Mermaids depicted by a Russian folk artist. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons via New York Public Library

Last week, Animal Planet aired a fictional mockumentary about mermaids. From an educational perspective, it was a disaster that was rightfully described as “the rotting carcass of science television” by Brian Switek. As Dr. M on Deep Sea News pointed out, one of the troubling results of this TV special was the discovery that some people believe that mermaids are real.

When I pointed out on Facebook and twitter that mermaids do not exist and that I hoped none of my friends believe otherwise, it inspired a long and interesting discussion. Someone asked why it matters if people believe in mermaids, as they felt that a sense of whimsy among the public is a good thing. Someone pointed out that scientists are discovering amazing new species all the time. More than a few people said “anything is possible.”

Sure, scientists discover new species all the time, but while finding a new species of monkey, orchid, or jellyfish can be interesting, it is not proof that “anything is possible” and it is not the same thing as finding a species of talking, thinking humanoids with fish tails on the lower half of their bodies.  There’s a big and important difference between enjoying fantasy novels and wishing that certain fantastical creatures exist (i.e. having a sense of whimsy) and genuinely believing that those creatures really do exist.

These people don’t believe that in the vast and unexplored ocean, there may be some bizarre undiscovered species still out there. They believe that talking, thinking humanoids with fish tails on the lower half of their bodies exist and are acknowledged as existing by the scientific community. This displays a troubling lack of awareness of reality that likely is not limited to a belief in mermaids. For the benefit of those who have paid so little attention to what’s going on in the real world that they believe mermaids exist, here are five other things that you should, but likely do not, know about the oceans.

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Misunderstood Marine Life # 5 – Lionfish

Thank You Joel Rotunda, ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu

Last time you went to an aquarium, you probably saw a lionfish swimming happily in a tank filled with a bit of coral or rocky bottom, calmly flipping its fins about in the slight current created by the water pump. Now think back to the interpretive sign next to the tank – did it say that the exhibit displayed an invader or an awesome, weird aquarium fish? Depending on which part of the world you’re in, you might get a different answer. Along the east coast of the United States, though, it should say the former. Lionfish have spread from south Florida throughout the Caribbean and up to North Carolina, where they can be found on reef habitat (either natural or manmade via the sinking of ships) at a concentration of 400 fish per square meter. And they eat everything in sight.

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