Fun Science FRIEDay – Dude, I’m Glowing!

Happy Fun Science FRIEDay! After a brief hiatus, due to life, hoping this installment represents the regular…err, semi-regular, occurrence of FSF.

So this hit the interwebs pretty big earlier this week, the first documented reptile to glow. That honor belongs to the Hawksbill a sea turtle, observed first by  David Gruber, of City University of New York.

Fluorescing hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo credit: David Gruber, of City University of New York)

Fluorescing hawksbill sea turtle. (Photo credit: David Gruber, of City University of New York)

Lets get one thing out of the way before we delve into the glowing version of Crusher (for my finding Nemo aficionados). The sea turtle is not glowing, its fluorescing… there is a difference. In the ocean lots of organisms fluoresce at longer wavelengths (green, yellow, red) in response to shorter wavelengths (UV, blue, violet). It is a typical property of many biological materials and is noticeable if viewed through restrictive long pass filters, as is the case here.

That being said, documenting a sea turtle fluorescing is still pretty freaking cool! Like many scientific discoveries this was totally by happenstance. David was in the Solomon Islands to film biofluorescence in small sharks and coral reefs. And during his observations of sharks and corals glowing Crusher just swims by like, “Dude, I’m all glowing and stuff.”

Checkout the awesome video of it below, and Happy FSF!




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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“You Could Walk On The Backs of Sea Turtles”

Sea turtle research is unique in that many if not most of the people actually out in the field taking data are volunteers. By day, they are teachers, librarians, business owners, lifeguards, firefighters, students, retirees, you name it. If you’re curious, check out the network’s website. Sea turtles are the classic cute endangered animals that can really make someone care about marine conservation. And all of this data has gone to help produce population assessments such as this that confirm that while overall population is declining, some areas are actually increasing. But no where is back to the populations on which people could walk out to sea on the backs of turtles.

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