Isaac Newton, after experiencing the bottom end of a falling apple, used that experience to formulate the theory of gravity. The inductive process Newton used is common to the goals of most scientific endeavors and a deeply ingrained part of the human psyche. As humans, we love to generalize. It helps us understand the world around us by categorizing parts of it and explaining natural dynamics by the “laws of nature”. We also stereotype each other by race, hometown, or favorite basketball team. Some would say these tendencies help us prepare – to predict and expect the logical outcome of the set of clues presented in our everyday lives. But just like the reasons your mother told you not to stereotype, sometimes nature has its own surprises that defy prediction, categorization, or law-following. Especially if you don’t quite know what the law is yet.
Few things have inspired the human imagination quite like the ocean. The vast, mysterious deep is the stuff of poets, artists, explorers, and scientists. A natural result of this seemingly endless, unfathomable world-beneath-the-waves is the emergence of a broad and persistent ocean mythology, ranging from tales of sea monsters, to near magical healing powers, to perceptions of infinite abundance. Every year, we take a week to explore these myths – the fictions, falsehoods, and pseudoscience – surrounding the ocean.
Welcome to a Week of Ocean Pseudoscience!
We’ve got some great posts on our plate, starting today. We’ll be counting down our top seven misunderstood marine creatures, exposing some deceptions from the climate denial industry, investigating rumors surrounding the use of ethanol additive in outboard motors, and having some fun with cryptozoology. David will probably have something to say about sharks, too.
Along the way, our friends from Deep Fried Sea will join us as they wander the ocean looking for the still missing Iffy and meet all kinds of weird and wonderful marine creatures.
That awesome logo was designed by Jason Robertshaw of the Cephalopodcast. If any other ocean bloggers want to join in, feel free to stamp your post with that logo and shoot me an e-mail so we can link to it from the homepage. Over on twitter, feel free to tweet us your favorite ocean psuedoscience, with the hashtag #PseudOcean (and follow us @SFriedScientist, @WhySharksMatter, and @bgrassbluecrab). So settle in for a week of ocean pseudoscience.
Over the last week we’ve explored dozens of maritime mysteries, ocean pseudoscience, and plain old non-sense. Many have been goofy and fun – the green flash, the bloop, Atlantis, the Montauk Monster. Some have been practical – can methane bubbles sink ships, cures for seasickness, chemosynthesis and photosynthesis, sharks and cancer. Others have been thought provoking – Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, the Tasaday, Banker Horses, Osedaxand Creationism.
We’ve counted down our favorite sea-monsters:
- Scylla and Charybdis
- The Loch Ness Monster
- Steller’s Sea Ape
And discovered that sometimes, the mythical creatures are actually real.
Charlie has joined in on the action too, busting myths, faking mermaids, staging a moon landing, walking with bigfoot, and fighting the kraken.
There have been tons of great posts from within the Southern Fried Science Network:
And our colleagues at other sites have joined in on the fun ,too:
But beyond the silly stories, ocean legends, and maritime mythos, many of these pseudosciences involve a lack of critical thinking that can do real and lasting harm to our ocean ecosystem. These are the beliefs that drive management decisions – Maximum Sustainable Yield, that mislead consumers – Orange Roughy and Shark Fin Soup, that poison our oceans – The Ocean is Infinite, and the distract us from real solutions – iron fertilization. In the end, this lack of skepticism and desire for simple, un-nuanced answers is precluding us from finding real, lasting solutions to some of the biggest problems facing our planet.
Despite the seemingly lighthearted and whimsical nature of many of the phenomena discussed during this Ocean of Pseudoscience Week, these beliefs are not harmless. People need to approach these ideas with both curiosity and skepticism – the future of the oceans depend on it.
~Southern Fried Science
After a week of pseudoscience, Charlie relaxes with some real creatures of the abyss.
The legend of Atlantis, a once-great civilization that sank into the ocean, has captivated humanity’s imagination for over 2,000 years. The earliest mention of Atlantis came from Plato’s Timaeus in 360 B.C., and the idea has spawned countless campfire stories, books, movies, and even one of my favorite TV shows. Plato’s original description mentions an island nation with a mighty military, and claims that the whole island sank after a failed invasion of Athens. Later interpretations of the story have elaborated, giving ancient Atlanteans technology that puts what we have today to shame. Some legends claim that a few Atlanteans escaped the sinking of their city, dispersed around the world, and founded our world’s known ancient civilizations. This fantastical story has wide-ranging implications for human history… but is any of it true?
People used to think that the sea’s bounty was infinite. Looking across the vast ocean, it was hard for any single fisherman to believe they could be contributing to the loss of species.
Hugo Grotius, commonly referred to as the founder of natural resources law, described the inexhaustible nature of the ocean:
“The sea is common to all, because it is so limitless that it cannot become a possession of any one, and because it is adapted for the use of all, whether we consider it from the point of view of navigation or of fisheries” (Grotius 1916)
Banker Horses are a breed of horses found on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These feral horses grace one of our rotating banners. Legend goes that 16th century Spanish Galleons, heavy with treasure, were wrecked off the coast of North Carolina. The horses escaped from the wreck, settled on the Outer Banks, and thrived for 400 years. But how much of this story is really true and how much is fiction invented for tourists?
The idea that the horses came from treasure galleons can be immediately discounted. Space was at a premium on these boats and was reserved for treasure, not live stock. But there is some truth in this myth. Banker Horses are originally from Spanish stocks and they have been on the Outer Banks since the 16th century.
There are two possible origins for this population. In 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón attempted to colonize North and South Carolina. The colony eventually failed and the surviving colonists fled, leaving their horses behind. Later, in 1585, Sir Richard Grenville brought nearly 100 horses to North Carolina. One of his ships ran aground near the Outer Banks, and to lighten the ship they abandoned some livestock on Ocracoke.
~Southern Fried Scientist
If the marine productivity is iron limited, then adding iron should increase phytoplankton growth. This growth will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in order to fuel photosynthesis and on a global scale, has the potential to mitigate global warming by absorbing the extra carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. But is it really that simple?
Purple indicates areas of low productivity where fertiilization could take place. From http://www.palomar.edu/oceanography/iron.htm
After the first description of this hypothesis by John Martin, eight mesoscale experiments were conducted by scientists through the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, described in great detail on their project website. Basically, they concluded that although iron fertilization does encourage plankton growth, the carbon that is sequestered during that growth does not permanently stay sequestered in the ocean, but is released back into the atmosphere through decomposition. Therefore, even if the whole earth were fertilized, the sequestration would not be effective enough to make up for the use of coal-fired power plants.
~Bluegrass Blue Crab
It’s the final day for Ocean of Pseudoscience, and our favorite observant nerd has weighed in on Shark Diver’s challenge. On Wednesday, Underwater Thrills broached the question “Do bull sharks have high enough testosterone levels that you can juice off bull shark blood?” We cried bull, but Christie did the leg-work to smash this video-game inspired myth.
The answer may surprise you.
Ya like dags? has joined in with yet another awesome pseudoscience take-down: Ya Like Dags – Flipper is a fraud!
~Southern Fried Scientist
Charlie squares off against the mighty Kraken!