Subtle ways to tell your elephant seal that she’s not fat enough

April 22, 2009

Along with several other ocean bloggers, I recently received a email from plugging their Top 10 Ocean Rivalries piece. Though I generally think that bringing ocean love (or slime or violence) to new audiences is a Good Thing, some of the assholery at sets my feminist leg hairs on end. Then I realized that ocean love and mocking sexist bullshit are two great tastes that taste great together. So without further ado:

Subtle ways to tell your elephant seal that she’s not fat enough

Don’t you hate it when your special seal hauls up on the beach and you notice that she’s just not jiggling the way she used to? Blubber loss is a sensitive issue – after all, she’s spent weeks nursing a pup without eating. You can’t just bark “You’re losing weight and I find you less attractive!” You’ve got to make sure that’s she’s in the mood for love before she goes back to sea – as alpha male, it’s your job to get her pregnant before she goes back to sea for the year.

Don’t worry. We here at are here to give you the top subtle ways to tell your elephant seal that she’s not fat enough.

1) Dig her a comfy hole in the sand, but make it too big. When she tries to settle in but doesn’t fit, she’ll realize that she’s half the seal she used to be.

2) Couch it in terms of her health. What if she freezes in the deep sea or starves during molting season? Remind her that she’ll be going back to sea already pregnant, and that she needs her strength.

3) Playfully poke at her sides. She’ll feel self-conscious about her puny layer of fat and go back to sea early.

4) Pour sealant over her favorite section of the beach in order to glue the sand grains together. That way, when she hauls out, she’ll won’t even make a dent. Nothing plays on a seal’s self-esteem like undented sand.

5) If all else fails, “accidentally on purpose” squash her during mating. She’ll realize that if she was bigger, it wouldn’t be so unpleasant. That’ll show her!

Unfortunate knitted creatures

December 23, 2008

Loyal readers know of my love for dark and warped plush toys. But these…these are masterpieces. Sick, sick masterpieces. (Also, apparently not for sale, alas.)

Via Martini-Corona, who really should just take over the whole blog

Fish = sea kittens in crazy, crazy PETA-land

October 27, 2008

I KNOW they want publicity, but I can’t resist. PETA’s new Save the Sea Kittens campaign is a spectacular example of…of…of…something that only David Foster Wallace could have adequately described. Clearly, some pot-addled intern was like, “DUDE! If we, like, said that fish were like kittens, nobody would, like, eat them. Cause kittens are cute ‘n’ stuff!”

On the Sea Kittens homepage, you can create your own Sea Kitten. (My officemate named his “Chum.”) You can also read “sea kitten bedtime stories” about the sad, desperate, and factually bereft lives of fish, erm, sea kittens. One example:

Tony the Trout is the smartest Sea Kitten in his school. Already litter-trained at 2 months old, Tommy went on to double-major in neuroscience and environmental studies at Clamford University, eventually graduating with honors.

When Tony is caught and fed to a precocious young child who, having eaten one mercury-filled sea kitten too many, falls to the bottom of his class, the irony is not lost on him.

Ah, the smell of scare-mongering is even better than that of fried trout! And don’t they mean fresh-water-kittens? Oh, never mind.

Even on their more serious-ish webpage, PETA does not call fish anything but “sea kittens.” This leads to awesome headlines like “Scientific American: Ocean Sea Kittens Feeling Effects of Recreational Anglers.”

Oh yes, seafood IS the scariest food, but only because PETA has helped me realize how delicious my land kittens would taste with tartar sauce.

Friday is for bizarre art

September 5, 2008

Boing Boing has been filled with awesomely bizarre biological art lately.

Slime molds unite! (And also divide.)

August 29, 2008

You’re a slime mold, minding your own business as a little single-celled sluggy creature, crawling about on the forest floor, nibbling on the finest of rotting wood and leaves. Then the signal comes in. You feel an irrepressible urge to join your slime mold brethren. So you crawl over and JOIN THE BORG.

From there, your choices aren’t so great for an individualistic slime moldling. Depending on what species you are, you are either completely borg-ified or you die. If you’re a plasmodial slime mold, you lose your identity completely. Your cell walls break down and you become just one cell nucleus floating about in a vasty sea of cytoplasm. Millions of wee little slime moldlings have merged to become a giant single cell. That cell, called a plasmodium, continues to crawl happily about while having lots of sex with itself and producing spores that will become new little free-living slime moldlings.

But if you’re a cellular slime mold, you get to keep your cell walls and some of your individuality. You glue yourself to your fellows and become a type of multicellular organism. There’s a downside – you don’t get to enjoy your newfound bros for long, since in cellular slime molds, sex = death. About a third of your buddies dry up and form a stalk, and the rest make spores that are pumped out of the stalk to become new little free-living slime moldlings. At least, until they hear the signal and the Borg rises again…

Slime molds are way, way, way smarter than a slimy crawling pancake ought to be. The plasmodial slime mold Physarum (when in Borg form) can find the shortest way through a maze. Researchers grew a slime mold in a maze, and then put food at the opposite openings of the maze. The slime mold sent half of its body to eat at each end but stayed connected by winding pseudopods throughout the maze. The pseudopods were wound through the shortest possible route, leading scientists to conclude that slime molds are smarter than Harry Potter.

Watch a fetching yellow plasmodial slime mold crawl and spawn in this time-lapse video, courtesy of the ever-awesome Martini-Corona and her dad. So that the wrath of the world’s super-intelligent slime molds does not descend upon you, know that slime molds are NOT fungi. They are protists, in the same kingdom as amoebas and single-celled algae and such. In case this makes you sad, this video has real fungi for you to admire right after the live nude slime mold.

CLOACA, the Defecation Device

July 30, 2008

Kevin Z sent me a link to the most amazing poop-related machine ever. It’s named Cloaca. From the website Ectoplasmosis:

Food is put into the machine and is then fed through a series of tubes into various chambers containing biological compounds that mimic the human digestive system, breaking down the meals and finally excreting them. The finished product is nearly identical to actual human waste, which is quite an achievement. Delvoye even offered the artificial shit for purchase, although he seems to have sold out of it for the moment.

Apparently the machine-poop is not gross, because it’s produced by a machine. Note the lady at the end of the video running her well-groomed hands through the poo. (video & more below the jump)

Read the rest of this entry »

Oceanographers fight crime!

June 3, 2008

Four severed sneaker-clad right feet have washed up in British Columbia just this year, and Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer is on the case. He’s an expert in marine debris, most famous for his work with the wandering rubber duckies. But Dr. Ebbesmeyer also knows how bodies come apart! Is the mild mannered scientist really just a cover for the crime fighter within?

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer based in Seattle, Wash., said when a human body submerged in the ocean, the main parts like arms, legs, hands, feet and the head are usually what come off the body.

But he’s still baffled by how the exact same part — a right foot — could wash up repeatedly.

“It’s not unusual for body parts to wash up along the United States or Canada,” he said. “There’s so many accidents, like boating. That’s not unusual. It is unusual to find four bodies over the course of the year and just right feet.”

He said his theory is that the feet came along as a result of an accident that might have happened up along the Fraser River, that washed down and spread out along the Straight of Georgia.

Ebbesmeyer said he would urge the police to trace the shoes back to the store they were purchased.

“There’s a lot you can do with the serial number of a shoe and I’m assuming the RCMP are doing that,” he said.

I am a nice shark – to a desperate remora, anyway

May 17, 2008

I was innocently collecting water samples when this peculiar fish started trying to snuggle:

Having no idea what it was, I ignored it until I finished my work. But it followed me back to shore, swimming just underneath my legs:

When we surfaced (the fish still with us), my dive buddy told me that my not so little friend was a remora, and that it was trying to attach to me. AIEEEEEE! Remoras usually hitch rides on sharks or turtles using the suction provided by the plate on their head. The ridges are movable and create a vacuum.

Remoras are thought to be harmless hitchhikers, eating the parasites off its host and whatever else comes by. (Somehow that didn’t make me feel any better – that remora was not so small.) There’s also some neat mythology around them. According to this website:

The ancient Greeks and Romans had written widely about Remoras and had ascribed to them many magical powers such as the ability to cause an abortion if handled in a certain way. Shamans in Madagascar to this day attach portions of the Remora’s suction disk to the necks of wives to assure faithfulness in their husbands absence.

The ancient Romans actually attributed the death of Emperor Caligula to Remoras. They were believed to be fastened onto his ship, holding it back and allowing the enemy ships to overtake it.The Latin name Remora actually means “holding back” (McClane 1998).

Apparently remoras do sometimes attach to divers. Is this because of the drastic decline of shark worldwide, and especially in the Caribbean? Was my remora lonely and desperate? Is this a remora shifting baseline – shark & turtle riders now forced to ride mere divers? Or did my remora and I just have a special moment? Since the remora a) didn’t speak English; and b) swam back out to sea once I got out of the water, the mystery remains.

Thwarted by the tropics

April 29, 2008

It’s Coral Week over at Deep Sea News, and I have many coral-related thoughts. Unfortunately, I have been bitten by something poisonous and tropical and my right hand is the size of a grapefruit, which really cuts down on the typing speed. So please enjoy DSN’s many coralline delights and stay tuned. There’s lots of pretty pictures on the way once the swelling goes down.

A flensing knife, a dead dolphin, and a kickass scientist

April 7, 2008

This Nature News profile of whale anatomist Joy Reidenberg has it all: how to get your dead dolphin into Manhattan (through the Lincoln Tunnel, of course), how to move a table-sized pharynx (a forklift) and bit of an elegy for the dying art of anatomy (hard to publish, no support). Reidenberg’s scientific work is on cetacean voice evolution and mammalian pharynx anatomy, but the amazing part of this profile is her utter joy in dissecting rotting bus-sized cetaceans. Please enjoy selected quotes:

“I had to fold the front seat over on the passenger’s side and shove the bottlenose dolphin’s face out of the front passenger window to fit the thing in the car,” says Joy Reidenberg, almost losing her breath in laughter at the memory. “And so coming in through the Lincoln Tunnel, they’re saying ‘What do you have as a passenger?’”


“To bring back a larynx the size of this table,” she says, thumping on a conference room table, “takes six people, a tug-of-war, and maybe a backhoe and a crane.”


“The two words that have usually sent me into near heart attack have been the words ‘mass stranding’. To her, this is one of the greatest excitements in the world,” he [the department chair] says. “I, on the other hand, have the wonders of explaining to the institutions, the boards, the loading dock, the security people the wonderful material that comes in — trying to stand there with a straight face and say, ‘Odour? What odour?’

And anyone else who loves roadkill gets a double-A+ awesomeness rating in my book:

Once, at about age eight, she decided one of her few dolls needed a fur coat. Rather than asking her mother for one, she went out and found a dead chipmunk. She flayed it and was drying the hide when, to her horror, a raccoon took her prize.

Go read the full profile before Nature takes it out of the free zone.


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