Shark Week 2015 is especially auspicious because it coincides with the 40th anniversary of Jaws. The movie is having a limited re-release in theaters this summer. In its heyday, Jaws spawned a culture of fear and panic about sharks. Regretful of the carnage in the wake of his creation, author Peter Benchley later became a major advocate for sharks and dedicated his life to promoting their conservation.
Shark Week also promotes the mission of shark conservation through research and education, and has helped change the conversation about sharks – from seeing them as man killers to awe-inspiring top predators. As shark populations increase, due to better protection measures and rebounding prey populations, scientists are beginning to piece together the mysteries of their lives and habits. An example is the global tagging initiative by Ocearch, which makes tracking information of its study animals freely available online.
In a sign of the times, when a great white shark stranded alive yesterday on a beach in Chatham MA, not far from the waters where Jaws was filmed 40 years ago, beach goers rushed to save it. Happily, it was rescued, revived, tagged, and eventually released. [UPDATE – 07/19/2015]: Jameson (the rescued shark) survived the ordeal and is still trolling the waters off Cape Cod.)
If you need your shark fix while you wait for Shark Week 2016, check out the following programs that feature Dr. Greg Skomal, BU Marine Program grad and shark expert. And “live every week like it’s shark week” -Tracy Jordan, 30 Rock
Last night, I finally watched Antarctica: A Year on Ice and really enjoyed it. New Zealander (and frequent Antarctica over-winterer) Anthony Powell has been filming the landscape and conducting interviews with fellow workers for over 10 years. The result is absolutely unbelievable footage and insight into what it’s like to visit and work in the southern polar zone. The scenes of the Southern Lights will catch your breath.
The second week of IMMB 2015 flew by faster than the first. The students were busy with more seal surveys, another whale watch, a fish lab, a scrimshaw art project, a seal necropsy, a post-necropsy swim call (water temp = 56 degrees!), and a stranding response to the rarely seen Delphinus inflatus. In addition, each student completed an oral presentation for our class symposium, Seal Week – a theme that we modeled after Shark Week – to educate people about the misconceptions about the recovering seal populations of New England.
The other night, we watched Song of the Sea for Movie Night. It’s an Oscar-nominated animated film that brings to life the Irish folktale of the selkie – mythical creatures that live as seals in the sea but can shed their skin to become a human on land. Besides being visually stunning, the story explores family dynamics and sibling relationships, grief, and even a little magic. It’s not to be missed!
The first week of Introduction to Marine Mammal Biology 2015 is off to a great start. We have seven students who are giving it their all – it’s a lot of material to cram into two weeks! Highlights include: hikes around Appledore Island, a skulls and skeletons lab where students solved bone puzzles, a whale watch, a Duck Island seal survey, bioacoustics lab, porpoise dissection, and of course – lots of gorgeous sunsets.
Mocha Dick (2009): wool felt, vinyl coated fabric, and internal fan
“Mocha Dick is a 52-foot-long recreation of the real-life albino sperm whale that in the nineteenth century terrorized whaling vessels near Mocha Island in the South Pacific. Mocha Dick, was described in appearance ‘he was as white as wool’ in an 1839 magazine article from The Knickerbocker, engaged in battle with numerous whaling expeditions, often sinking smaller boats, and was a source of inspiration for Herman Melville’s epic Moby Dick.”
I accepted a 1 year position at Baylor University to work with Steve Trumble (physiologist) and Sascha Usenko (environmental chemist) to learn the ropes and contribute to their whale earplug project. They have developed a method to examine lifetime stress, reproductive, and contaminant exposure histories using the earplug as a model tissue. Baleen whales accumulate wax in their ear canal (which is closed to the external environment and never gets cleaned out with a Qtip!) and in many species this wax plug forms annual growth layers. The layers, or lamina, can be sampled to generate chemical profiles that represent the whale’s entire life. This has major implications for learning about stress levels, especially for species that encounter ship noise, oil and gas exploration or chemical exposure. The focus of my work will be on an earplug collected from a bowhead whale. For my part, I’m interested to learn how to measure these new [to me] markers and hope to use these skills in my ongoing work looking at chemical profiles in baleen.
“It’s tough to make small talk with a stranger – especially when that stranger doesn’t speak your language. (And he has a blowhole.)”
RadioLab is a FANTASTIC radio program that presents engaging [and often fascinating] stories about science. (Co-host Jad Abumrad recently won a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship for his work on this and other programs).
This episode focuses on dolphin intelligence and communication. D. Graham Burnett, science historian and author of “The Sounding of the Whales: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century”, gives a great analysis of why people care so much about whales and dolphins. Act Two, describing a wild dolphin communication project in the Bahamas gives a very realistic account of why field work can be so difficult – and why projects can go for several years with no results.
[UPDATE – 07/23/15] This piece was highlighted in “Roughly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism” for 2014 by The Atlantic.
Last week, I took a stroll down the Rose Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston, and loved checking out the carousel, featuring all local species.
“Newburyport Artist Jeff Briggs designed and sculpted a one-of-kind carousel for Boston’s Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. His challenge was to create decorations and rides inspired by the ‘land, sea and air’ of the New England environment. Boston schoolchildren were also asked to make drawings of the animals they would like to see on the carousel. Their drawings served as the inspiration for many of the fourteen unique characters that Jeff brought to life, including a sea turtle, a grasshopper, a barn owl, a codfish and a whale. The finishing touch for each animal was a bright, kid-pleasing paint job by artist Bill Rogers, a longtime collaborator.”