Monday, March 22, 2010

Would you rather have rain forests or oceans?

Fishing helps save rain forests. Did you know that? Ray Hilborn knows, and he thinks you should pay attention.

This is an example of a useful idea taken to a silly place. Let's compare the impacts of ocean fishing with land-based agriculture (a useful idea) and then set up a straw man of plowing the world's rainforests to replace all fishing.

What do we really learn from this comparison? That we should carry on with bad fishing just because other things are worse according to a certain set of assumptions and methods of comparison?

The real message is that there is fishing done wrong and fishing done right, and doing it right is better. End of silly comparisons.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adventure science

Hauling a 120 kilo sled across the Arctic ice, and SWIMMING ACROSS OPEN WATER where cracks separate chunks of floating ice. This is Swim Around Bainbridge on steroids.

The Catlin Arctic Survey 2010 will trek across the Arctic in winter, in order to study the ocean acid monster (the CO2 problem formerly known as ocean acidification).

Can I come too?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shrimp on ice

What lives under Antarctic Ice? Scientists thought maybe nothing, except those silly little microbes that live everywhere. But guess what happens when you do an actual experiment, sometimes you find a big surprise.

Like the false bologna sandwich hypothesis, the now-discredited "nothing big lives under the ice" hypothesis is toast.

As soon as scientists placed cameras under the 600 foot thick Antarctic ice sheet at the bottom of a hole drilled through the ice, a cute little 3 inch long orange shrimp settled down on the camera cable and stared at them (photo at top left). Wondering, no doubt, how creatures can live outside of the nice comforting dark water that's always the same comforting temperature of 272 degrees Kelvin.

That's right folks, harsh is in the eyes of the beholder. An Antarctic shrimp must find it's own habitat to be quite nice, and a tropical beach in the Bahamas would be like being cooked in boiling water. It's all what you're used to.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bluefin tuna get their day in court

The fish fight back, this time thanks to the Prince of Monaco. Now that's a strange twist of fate, suitable for a new "Alice in Wonderland" movie.

Bluefin tuna may get some long overdue protection if all goes well at the ongoing CITES convention that limits international trade of endangered species.

The trade ban seems necessary, since fisheries management has failed to halt the decades-long and still continuing decline of bluefin tuna. After Japan was busted for quota-busting illegal fishing a few years ago, I thought we might see some progress. But no, so a trade ban seems like the only hope. This is what the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was designed for, so it's time to try this last-hope approach.

Some of my colleagues are actively working on this issue in Qatar, and I hope I have some good news to report soon. Stay tuned, and see whether common sense and rationality will prevail and bluefin will get a chance to recover.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eel armor the next step in personal protection

If you want lessons in protection, look to the ancient armored dinosaur eel. It has multi-layered scales that are teaching materials scientists some new ways to resist dangerous attacks, and may lead to the next generation of body armor for people. According to Scientific American:

"...each scale is made of three layers on a bone support that all complement one another to defy penetration. The outer coat is the hardest and most resistant to sharp teeth. The middle is softer and dissipates energy by deforming. The last layer has a plywoodlike structure, which prevents cracks from spreading. The precise sequence of these layers critically preserves armor strength—for instance, replacing the outer and middle layers in simulations increased risk of the scale coming apart."

For you ichthyologists, it's Polypterus senegalus and it's not technically an eel. It lives in muddy swamps, and it evolved the tough scales some 100 million years ago, back when predators were fierce and prey were nervous.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Deep sea fish eat their greens

In another new video, scientists filmed deep sea fish eating spinach. That's right, now you can tell your children that there are starving deep sea fish who would love to eat their spinach. And just like my son, they'll say "fine, let the fish have it."

Not only spinach can feed the deep sea, another improbable food source can be trees that fall from the land and sink into the deep sea. Here's a crab, commonly called a squat lobster, that enjoys munching on wood.

First it was hydrothermal vents providing an unusual food source for the deep sea. Then came whale carcasses. Now trees and spinach. All of which overturned the erroneous "bologna sandwich" hypothesis from a few decades ago, which mistakenly held that life was slow and boring in the deep sea, based on a bologna sandwich that failed to decompose.

What could be more exciting than hydrothermal vents or a dead whale ecosystem? A spinach-fall successional pattern?

Whale with an ocean plastic problem

Tell me what you think of this Surfider video. Does it go too far, or is it a good way to get attention for a serious problem?

I like it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Red grouper, the beavers of the ocean

Have you ever been on the bottom of the ocean and wondered who dug all those holes? OK, maybe not, but I'll tell you anyway, it might have been red grouper.

Scientists now know that red grouper dig holes that are used by many other animals, and they may be keystone species that provide a service that is important to an entire ecosystem.

Check out the video below, and watch a red grouper dig a hole. And watch for the applause from all the other grateful animals who benefit.

Oh yeah, red grouper aren't the only fish that do this, check out the antics of tilefish for another even more amazing example. But they didn't get top billing because I couldn't find such a cool video and the red grouper's agent promised a bigger kickback.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Climate science opens up the books

Is global warming a hoax or a scientific conspiracy? 1 out of 6 Americans said yes, it's a hoax or conspiracy, according to a recent survey.

Climategate, the leaked emails from climate scientists, has fueled this doubt of global warming science.

Well, in response, something remarkable is happening. Scientists are beginning to open up the books on their work. According to the New York TImes:
A number of institutions are beginning efforts to improve the quality of their science and to make their work more transparent.
This is surprising stuff, scientists are notoriously reluctant to let the unwashed public into the inner workings of the scientific enterprise.

Is this the beginning of a change that will reverberate throughout the world of research, like the pioneering success of AIDS activists who won a seat at the table for decision-making on AIDS research?

Or is it merely a defensive move designed to quiet the furor over hacked emails that reveal the human side of scientists? I know many scientists who say nothing is wrong, that the only reason people doubt the science is because of evil doubt-mongers blocking progress. But I think it goes deeper than that. Scientists (and I am one, so I can say this) need to come down off our high horses and do a better job of dealing with the public. Don't get me wrong, I think climate change is real, it's proven, it's a threat, and we should act now to reduce harm.

If this is really an opening of the books on climate science, I think it will help build public acceptance of climate science and the fact of human-caused climate change.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Ocean smackdown: great white shark vs. giant squid

Ocean battles are the stuff of legend, dating back to the time when seafarers worried about mythical monsters out in the unknown ocean. But here's an amazing new struggle: scientists think great white sharks migrate thousands of miles so they can dive deep and battle with giant squid.

Asked about this suggestion, a great white shark (above left) declined to comment, but then said: "what happens in the deep Pacific stays in the deep Pacific."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Herbicide turns males into females

Do you use weed killers? Well, you may think twice after you hear about herbicide-doused male frogs that turn female. They don't just act female--mating with other male frogs (see photo)--they actually produce real eggs.

Atrazine, the common weed killer, can turn male frogs into females when the frogs are exposed at levels found in nature (levels that the US EPA says is safe for drinking water). In the photo at right, the frog on the bottom is a feminized male that is mating with the normal male on the top.

The feminized male frogs do more than just mate with normal males, they produce viable eggs.

So watch out for that weed killer guys, you may not like the results. And your partners may like the results even less than you do.

Wave energy site under construction

A dubious or honorable first for Oregon? The first US wave energy plant is under construction off Reedsport, Oregon. Will they work well, or just turn into expensive garbage littering and damaging ocean habitats?

Fishermen are up in arms, worried that they won't be able to fish there. So perhaps we'll get to ocean zoning, a process that most fishermen have opposed when they thought it would reduce fishing. Now some may find that ocean zoning helps fishing by securing some places where fishing is the preferred use.

Time to find out how well this technology works, and if we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels without too many accidents, it'll be a good thing.

Carnival of the blue 34

For this month's best of ocean blogging, check out Carnival of the Blue 34 at Southern Fried Science. Wow, I never thought I'd be recommending anything that was "Southern" and "Fried." Give me my arugula salad and gruyere cheese please.