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Dr. Misty Paig-Tran is Assistant Professor at California State University Fullerton. Her laboratory (Functional Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Biomaterials) studies how animals feed and move, among other things. Her research is focused on big filter-feeding animals (Sharks and Manta rays) and mid-deep water fishes – you know, the scary looking ones. You can learn about her research here, and you can follow her on twitter.
Today I sit at my computer totally aghast that the media seems to have gone into a frenzy once again about the latest oarfish that washed up on Catalina yesterday. I get it. I too, as a marine biologist and self-admitted fish nerd, get totally excited any time a cool fish washes up. And I get extra excited about the oarfish in particular. Of course I do, I am currently studying the fish in my lab at Cal State. What’s not to like? It’s huge, silvery, and looks like a dragon. Myths about this fish are old and salty. However, there has been a ton of misinformation printed about this fish and now it’s my chance to set some things straight. So I will try to rectify this now. Ahem.
Alex Zrenner is a 2015 Kenan Summer Fellow and rising junior at Duke University. She is from St. Louis, Missouri and is pursuing a major in economics with a math minor. Each summer, the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University supports undergraduate Kenan Summer Fellows, a program meant to help students explore what it means to live an ethical life. Portions of this post were originally published on the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ website. Alex has written weekly updates about her project here, and is also creating video blogs for the project that can be seen here.
My name is Alex Zrenner, and I am fixing the Internet. Well actually, I am researching the Internet. I have spent the past six weeks studying the ethics of cyber harassment and free speech as one of this year’s Kenan Summer Fellows.
This is not Cecil the lion. I shot this lioness in 2000 in Tanzania… with a digital camera.
1) The manner in which Cecil the lion was killed (he slowly bled to death over nearly 2 days after being shot with an arrow before eventually being shot with a rifle) is strikingly inhumane and atypical of hunting. Lots of people seem to be fixating on the fact that he was skinned and beheaded after he was killed, but that’s pretty typical for hunting.
2) If the hunter who shot and killed Cecil the lion broke the law in doing so (this seems to be not entirely resolved, he had a permit to kill a lion but seems to have lured Cecil out of a protected area) he should absolutely be held responsible for it. In a court.
3) The hunter’s excuse of “I should not be responsible for anything that happened during the hunt because I hired guides to plan everything” is complete bullshit, both legally and morally.
The other day I overheard an academic tell an upcoming graduate student that they should pick a PhD project by finding an advisor who already had a project set up and who had funding and that they should do research where the funding was rather than where their interests lay. This was so totally contrary to my PhD experience it left me reeling.
Fortunately, it turns out last week’s chapter was a fluke, and we come down the home stretch of Eating Aliens with some of the strongest sections since the beginning. Canadian Geese was particularly fascinating, as it’s clear this is the species Landers has the most experience talking about. Te chapter is rich with the details, backstory, and information that I was hoping to find throughout the book, with less cynicism about the role of local and national government than we’ve seen previous. If you haven’t caught up yet, I recommend just skipping Nutria and going straight to Canadian Geese.
Then we’re back in the water with numerous marine and freshwater invasives, many from the aquarium trade. Plecos and armored catfish, released by amateur aquarists, are booming in Florida’s warm, protected waters, while tilapia is a holdover from the aquaculture industry. Frankly, there wasn’t much new in these chapters, other than the species–at this point introduced fish are old news, and while the details of each animal are slightly different, the causes and consequences are often the same. Personally, I don’t think I’d eat a pleco, but it doesn’t sound particularly unpalatable. Even though the story is pretty much the same–Landers struggles to catch anything, hijinks ensues, they finally eat it–this was a fun part of the book.
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 largest and oldest professional society focusing on shark and ray research, announced a new diversity initiative today. The new Young Professional Recruitment Fund will identify and contact students, postdocs and early career professional from historically underrepresented minority groups and from developing countries whose research focuses on elasmobranchs. Additionally, if you are (or know of) a student, postdoc, or early career professional from a historically underrepresented minority group or a developing country, please feel free to reach out to us.
The Young Professional Recruitment Fund will be used to inform these early career scientists of the benefits of joining the American Elasmobranch Society. To welcome them to the Society and encourage their long-term participation, it will cover the costs of their Society membership for one year. Additionally, in cooperation with MinorityPostDoc.org, the fund will be used to give these scientists specialized professional development training, networking opportunities, and mentorship.
This fund is the latest in the American Elasmobranch Society’s continuing commitment to fostering diversity and inclusiveness in marine science. More details will be released soon. For more information, please contact Society Editor David Shiffman( WhySharksMatter at gmail dot com.)
I’m going to have to start with an apology. I intended to get to this chapter before #JacquesWeek kicked off and sucked up all of my time, but I just couldn’t. This chapter was… not fun and not particularly informative.
In the longest chapter of the book, Jackson’s fails to hunt Nutria for 90% of the story. This chapter drags on. It could have easily been 70% shorter without losing any of the actual information. I get that Jackson is a hunter and like to wax poetic about the process, but much of that process has already been covered at length. If this were a standalone story, and I get the feeling it was originally written as such, that extra detail would have been welcome, but here it just feels redundant.
I just don’t have much more to say. The anti-government stuff common in other chapters was subdued because local authorities were more interested in killing nutria than following the letter of the law and I would have loved to read more about the history of Nutria and the fur trade, but those details were sacrificed to make more room for complaints about his photographer and how many cottonmouths he found.
In the end, the chapter wasn’t great, but if it’s the worst of Eating Aliens, I’m not going to be too disappointed. Next week, catfish!
Last night, I was in the mood for some Cousteau. The classics from the Undersea World, Odyssey, River Expeditions, and host of other long running series, still hold up as some of the best ocean documentaries of all time. So I picked a few of my favorites, pulled some people together online, and called it #JacquesWeek, an alternative to Shark Week for those who either don’t get the Discovery Channel or just want something different.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau
I’ll be honest, I’m burned out on Shark Week. After several years of intense livetweeting, post-show debunking, and high-level critique (look for my and Shiffman’s paper on best practices for responding to fake mass media documentaries in Ocean and Coastal Management later this year), I find that I just don’t have much more to say. Some shows will be good. Some shows will be great. Some shows will be bad.
Jacques Cousteau has never let me down. Sure, sometimes the science is off (pretty much everything in Blind Prophets of Easter Island is incorrect, for example), but that’s because the Calypso crew was working at the boundaries of human knowledge, and their work comes off earnest, heartfelt, and compassionate. And so full of wonder. Much of what Cousteau’s team did was done for the very first time.
I’ve been critical of factual inaccuracy and fearmongering on Shark Week documentaries for years. But how big of a problem is this, and how do we know? I asked some of the authors of three recent scientific studies* to summarize the evidence.
Many species of sharks are in desperate need of conservation. Twenty-four percent of all known species of sharks, skates and rays are considered Threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List. Using a variety of different methods, scientists have documented rapid and severe population declines in many species of sharks all over the world.
Conservation requires public support. In a participatory democracy, new policies and regulations require some public support to pass. It’s easy to get public support to conserve cute and cuddly animals, but ugly animals need protection too. So do animals that scare people, like sharks.