It’s getting to be that time of year again. Shark Week, the seven-day Super Bowl for shark nerds and casual viewers alike, is celebrating its 25th year this summer. This year it runs a little later than usual (probably to avoid conflicting with that little thing called the Olympics) which means it coincides with the second half of the ASIH/AES meeting. Since several AES members have actually made appearances on Shark Week, I can only imagine there will be some sort of quasi-organized viewing going on. Here’s what this year’s promo looks like:
It’s very professionally-done, and though it plays up the fear factor a bit I don’t see anything too offensive here (unlike in 2009, where the promos actually just showed people being eaten). Last year marked an improvement over some of the other recent “shark porn”-heavy seasons, but was not without its flaws. How does this year’s lineup look?
Some field days just don’t go well. This past Thursday I went out with Evan and Jeff to do a little opportunistic shark sampling in the Pamlico River while they were out collecting water samples for a striped bass project. What actually happened was quite possibly the worst field day I have ever had, and I’ve been doing this marine biology/fisheries science thing long enough to have had a few rough field days. There was my first major research cruise, during which I puked for an entire day, and there was also the consistently inconsistent (but always pretty bad) weather during the first leg of our Cape Cod sampling last summer. This trip trumps them both, and at least partially, I only have myself to blame. When I decided a series of “warts and all” posts on my summer field work was a good idea, I had no idea how many warts there would be. At the very least this should be funny to you, dear reader.
Field work season has officially begun. On Wednesday and Thursday I set out for Hatteras and Ocracoke with labmate Evan and his brother Austin to test the gear, get an idea of how much sampling can happen in a day, and maybe even catch some sharks. This area was chosen because it likely has the most potentially difficult sampling conditions in the entire survey and also the best chance to catch some actual sharks, which would allow me to troubleshoot the gear and methods. Little did I know just how much troubleshooting would occur.
As mentioned earlier, this summer I’ll be starting the first of several shark-related projects that should (hopefully) add up to my dissertation. The first is a summer pilot study that aims to find shark hot spots in Pamlico Sound. Tomorrow, before the crack of dawn, field work officially begins. I’ll be titling posts about field work “Summer of the Shark,” because that’s certainly what my summer has been so far and will become even more so in the next couple months. Since I won’t have any pretty pictures of sharks until I get back on Thursday, enjoy this rundown of the gear I’ll be using.
By now it’s somewhat old news that a recent study by Gavin Naylor and other researchers from all over (freely available here) has revealed that there may be up to 79 previously undiscovered shark and ray species, which complicates conservation and fisheries management considerably. This absolutely epic, 250-page paper took genetic samples from 574 elasmobranch species worldwide in an effort to determine just how localized some wide-ranging species can be. As mentioned before, potentially 79 “new” species have been uncovered by this effort, mostly resulting from genetic variation between regions. However, some other discoveries are a little more complex, and therefore a little more interesting. For a general overview of the methods and implications for conservation, check out Dave’s post and Week 3 of Blue Pints over at the parent blog. I’ll be covering a few of the species-specific results, focusing on some sharks (and one ray) that are important to fisheries and conservation in the U.S. east coast.
I’m looking forward to hanging out with my fellow shark people and seeing what they’re all up to, but I’m extra excited because I get to go to Canada. Not just Canada, but one of the most naturally-beautiful parts of the North American continent. I’ve had a fondness for our neighbors to the north ever since spending my high school years in Vermont, where the stations broadcasting from Canada were playing the better music (Limp Bizkit was topping the charts in America at the time, kids). Since I count several Canadians, former Canadians, and people who have generally spent time in Vancouver as friends and regular readers, I’d like to enlist your help in the comments section with any recommendations for my “Vancouver bucket list” of things I should/need to do while I’m up there. Intriguing and/or entertaining suggestions will be added to the list below the jump, so keep checking in to see if it grows.
Late last summer, I embarked with an intrepid crew of Duke grad students to track bull sharks in the Neuse River. We came up empty-handed that time, but a year later I found myself going back for another crack at catching, tagging, and following the world’s most dangerous shark an hour and a half from my own backyard. Since most of the procedures and general background are already covered here and here, I’ll just tell this story in photo essay format.
It wasn’t my intention to keep picking on the Mediterranean, but this paper was just too damn interesting. In the Mediterranean, like many other marine environments worldwide, numbers of jellyfish and ctenophores (those really colorful comb jellies, actually not related to jellyfish) have recently exploded. According to a recent PLoS One paper by researchers from the University of Barcelona (Cardona et al. 2012), a possible explanation may be that their predators are overfished. This isn’t too shocking a finding (especially in the consistently overfished Mediterranean), but what is interesting is just who some of those predators are. Also, this paper represents exactly what I like to see in a stable isotope paper.
As dramatically imperfect as U.S. fisheries management can be, I still stand by my stance that we have the best-managed fisheries in the world. Fishermen gripe about it being too restrictive and quick to change, conservationists complain about it being too lenient and slow to adapt, and both have a point. That said, we could do much worse than the job NMFS is doing. This is especially true for shark and ray fisheries, where the old practice of lumping all but a few species into one of two “coastal shark complexes” is giving way to species-specific management. This is perhaps most dramatic for the scalloped hammerhead, which is finally getting its own stock assessments and may be headed for Endangered Species listing. We’ve come a long way since crashing the Atlantic cod population. But not every country does as good a job as us…
I freely admit that I enjoy seafood. I grew up in New England, where the American seafood industry was practically invented, and now live in North Carolina, where the confluence of cold and warm water at Cape Hatteras makes for some of the richest fishing grounds on the east coast. I have yet to find something from the ocean that I haven’t enjoyed eating. At the same time, as a young marine scientist with a fisheries management background, I have the curse of “knowing too much.” I’m well aware of just how ecologically devastating some fishing methods can be, and can’t even eat dolphin-safe tuna without cringing over the consequences. I want nothing more than a healthy, biologically-diverse ocean, but part of the motivation for that is that I want the oceans to continue providing my favorite foods. Though some advocate giving up seafood altogether, continuing to eat seafood can be one of the best ways to promote marine conservation. Doing so, however, may cost a little more, require a little research, and force you to think differently about some of the staples of your diet. For an entire blog’s worth of advice (and recipes), check out the excellent Eat U.S. Seafood. For some of the general rules I try to follow, keep reading.