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How to: Turn a fish vegetarian

Researchers have figured out a way to feed meat-eating fish on an all-vegetarian diet — essentially, they've made the fish-food version of Tofurky. Why? Turns out, commercial fish farms catch lots and lots of small, wild fish every year, in order to feed the bigger fish that they raise and sell. This new feed (based on plant proteins) could save both money and wild ocean fisheries, leaving the small fish to grow and multiply. Maggie 6

What's inside the stomach of a mako shark?

Psst, hey kid. You wanna see some clips from the dissection of one of the largest mako sharks ever caught? Sure you do.

This NOAA video has amazing footage of the shark's stomach — so big it fills a tall Rubbermaid tub — and the even more amazing footage of scientists lifting an almost completely intact sea lion head out said shark's stomach.

What's the benefit? Studying the stuff in a shark's stomach helps us understand how different species are interrelated — which helps scientists figure out how to better manage the conservation of whole ecosystems. Essentially, write the good folks at Smithsonian.com, this is an example of scientists making valuable use out of a not-exactly-ideal situation. The shark was legally caught and killed by fishermen filming a scene for a reality TV show.

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Help ocean scientists build open-source research tools

CTD units are incredibly important to ocean research, measuring three basic factors of sea water — conductivity, temperature, and depth. Almost every major research vessel has one. But the units are part of what ensures that it's expensive to get started doing ocean science. Each one can cost between $5000-$25,000. Now, a group of ocean scientists are trying to finance the design of an open-source CTD that could be built by anyone for less than $200. You can help fund their efforts at Rockethub. Maggie 1

Even the most adorable parts of nature can mess you up

This Shark Week, the seals of the world would like to take a moment to remind you that appearance isn't everything. Scary-looking creatures might not actually be that much of a threat to you. Adorable ones are not necessarily as cuddly as they let on.

Read the rest

Aquaman's costume would look different underwater than above

Water filters light. The more water that's above you, the more light is filtered out before it can reach your eyes. The deeper you go, the more this effect alters which colors you can see and how those colors appear, writes Andrew David Thaler at Southern Fried Science. Even at a depth of just 5 meters, reds and oranges become difficult to distinguish from one another. Maggie 5

The happiest little plankton in the world

Artist Hiné Mizushima makes these super adorable models of microscopic crustaceans called Daphnia out of felt. Scientists like to get the real-world versions of these creatures drunk, and use them to study how alcohol affects the nervous system. I suspect that Daphnia are cute drunks.

Via David Ng

Two months aboard an Antarctic ice breaker, condensed to 5 minutes

Here's an incredibly cool video showing the prow of a massive ice breaking ship as it plows through Antarctica's Ross Sea. The footage is sped up, to pack two months of travel into five minutes. But, unlike a lot of time-lapse videos, this one also has a really informative audio track, in which marine scientist Cassandra Brooks waxes poetic about the many different kinds of ice and explains why she and her team were out there, breaking through the stuff, to begin with.

Bonus: At the end, you get to see the absolute adorableness that is penguins on high-speed fast forward.

Via Deep Sea News

Strange, wonderful, deep-sea creatures ... with googly eyes

Please enjoy this very serious, scientific Tumblr that posts exactly what it promises — pictures of the strange and fantastic creatures that live deep in the ocean ... with googly eyes photoshopped onto their bodies.

The specimen above is an animal known as the pigbutt worm. Yes, seriously. With the googly eyes in place, you can't quite get a full understanding of how weird looking this animal is, so please be sure to check out the "before" photo, as well.

The site is maintained by a deep sea ecologist (he's anonymous, but I've verified that this is true). So you can trust the information provided here. For instance, when readers ask how the heck a pigbutt worm counts as a worm:

The pigbutt worm, Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, is a very weird looking worm, for sure. All Annelid worms are segmented, and the pigbutt is no exception. If you look at an ordinary earthworm, you can see those segments, but in Chaetopterus pugaporcinus, the middle segments are super inflated compared to the rest of its body. The rear segments are visible in the area that looks like the anus on a mammal’s buttocks (although others have noted that this section of the pigbutt worm looks more like a disembodied vulva than a floating buttock).

What does ambergris look like?

Ambergris is often referred to as "whale vomit", but that's not really correct. A more accurate analogy would be to say that ambergris is like the whale equivalent of a hairball. It's produced in the whale digestive tract, possibly to protect intestines from the sharp, pointy beaks of squid — you'll often find squid beaks embedded in the stuff. Most of it gets pooped out. But the big chunks of ambergris have to exit the other direction. In the human world, these lumps — which have the consistency of soft rock or thickly packed potting soil — are famous because we use them to make things like perfume. The ambergris washes up on beaches, people collect it, and sell it to make cosmetics.

Anyway, that's what usually happens. Recently, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Holland and the conservationists who dissected it found a huge quantity of ambergris in the animal's intestines.

That news made me realize that I'd never actually seen a picture of ambergris before, so I went hunting around to see what the stuff looked like. That's a photo of a lump of ambergris, above. But it's not really indicative of what ambergris looks like all the time. In fact, as far as I can tell, the stuff comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors — ranging from stuff that looks like small brown pebbles to yellow-green globs covered in bubbly nodules. The diversity is worth perusing. This website, for a company that buys and sells ambergris, has several nice photos. And Google image search turned up a plethora of pics that really capture how different one lump of ambergris can be from another.

Investigating the Gulf Coast dolphin murders

Along the Gulf Coast, people are killing (and sometime gruesomely mutilating) dolphins in record numbers. At National Geographic, Rena Silverman goes in-depth on the killings, which investigators now believe are the work of multiple people who are not connected to one another. Xeni wrote about it last year, when that was apparently less clear. Is it less or more disturbing that this isn't likely to be an isolated dolphin serial killer? Maggie

Project: Recycle old scientific equipment into new tools for public engagement

When ocean scientist Andrew Thaler found an old, outdated water level gauge, he found a way to give it new life — turning it into a tool to measure public interest in sea level rise. Instead of tracking water, the Sea Leveler tracks how much people are talking about water on Twitter.

Ocean scientists say 19-year-old's "realistic" plan to clean up the ocean isn't actually realistic

Earlier this week, Jason told you about a TEDx talk in which 19-year-old Boyan Slat presents a plan to remove plastic from the world's oceans. Lots of people are excited about this, which is reasonable. Particulate plastic in the ocean is a big problem that has, thus far, evaded any reasonable clean-up plans. There's just so much of it, it's so tiny, and the ocean is, you know, kind of huge. If a kid can come up with a plan that works, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, the ocean scientists at Deep Sea News say Slat's system isn't as simple and practical as he thinks it is. Among the many problems: Slat's plan would catch (and kill) as many vitally important plankton as pieces of plastic, and it calls for mooring plastic-collecting ships in the open ocean where the water is 2000 meters deeper than the deepest mooring ever recorded. Here's a mantra to remember: TED Talks — interesting if true. Maggie

A global society of squid

It's a small squid world, after all. A recent study shows that giant squid from all around the globe have remarkably low levels of genetic diversity — essentially, writes Tina Hesman Saey, they're all more closely related than scientists previously thought. Giant squid, as it turns out, are a single species, traveling, living, and breeding all around the planet. Maggie

Here are two lobsters having sex

From the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Facebook page, here are two lobsters doing it — apparently in the missionary position.

But looks can be misleading. What's actually going on here is external fertilization — that is to say, procreation without any of the potentially awkward penetration. Male lobsters produce spermatophores, packets of sperm, which they attach to the female's sternum. That's what you see happening here, according to the Sanctuary. Later, the female will use that sperm to fertilize her eggs.

Thanks to David Shiffman and Carin Bondar!

Sucking up to shrimp

Say you're a marine biologist and you want to study the little bitty creatures of the sea — shrimps and worms and things like that. How do you go about capturing them?

Why, with an underwater vacuum, of course.

At the PNAS First Look blog, David Harris writes that this "SCUBA-tank powered vacuum, called an “airlift,” inhales shrimp, sand fleas, marine worms, and 'things that would swim away if they had the chance.'"