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Friday, February 25, 2011

How to mingle at, and get thrown out of, a party with marine biologists

So, the weekend's coming up and you're going to a backyard barbecue at Dr. Sylvia Earle's house. Yes, it's still wintertime. Don't ask questions.

You check your supplies: guitar, marshmallows, dead pig (just in case it is a pig roast - you don't want to show up unprepared), giant inflatable sumo wrestling outfit (as is the custom for Dr. Earle's barbecues).

That's all well and good, but guess what you're forgetting? That's right, bub. You have no knowledge of oceans-related current events to discuss whilst mingling. There will be famous marine biologists everywhere - going without that kind of knowledge is like going cage-diving with great whites and forgetting the cage.

Lucky for you, we're givin' em out for free today. Here are your barbecue mingling talking points, with supporting info. We've laid them out in the most likely conversational sequence, below: 

1. "Looks like the ocean is indeed losing its big fish after all, eh Dr. Earle?"
'Fishing down the food web' is a well-established concept. The idea, as articulated in a 1998 article written by a team of researchers led by UBC's Daniel Pauly, refers to fisheries' tendency to take the largest fish first, and then to move on to smaller ones - with the result being that humans are eating the marine food web from the top on down. This idea has become well-established in fisheries circles. Well,  a few months ago there was an academic kerfuffle over a paper that called into question some aspects of the 'fishing down the food web' theory. Now, a new paper from a team of UBC researchers re-asserts that humans have, indeed, been wiping out large species, and that this has allowed smaller, fast-growing ones to flourish.

2. "Those predators are important, am I right?"
Predatory species play an important role in shaping ecosystems. They do this by eating things, of course, and also by changing the behavior of prey by scaring the living daylights out of them. Check out this great guest post on Deep Sea News on research into the direct (eating) and indirect (fear) influences of marine predators.

Everything you've said has been a hit. You're feeling good, feeling cool. You swing for the fences: 

3. "Say, how about those dead dolphin babies?"
OK, can't help you here. Yes, dead baby dolphins are indeed being found at an unusual rate down in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, the conversation just died. All you can hear is crickets. And even the crickets are embarrassed for you. 

In your haste to remove yourself from the awkward silence, you turn around too quickly and knock a beverage out of some eminent researcher's hands. He gets all up in your face.  

4. "Hey buddy, take it easy, it was a mistake. Jeez, pal, what's your problem - did you touch some squid eggs or something?"
Researchers recently reported that male squid that come into contact with a pheromone on squid eggs become violently aggressive towards other males (check out that link for the story and some great video).

Clearly this guy has been using female squid pheromones as aftershave, because he's turning purple with rage. He insults you. 

5. "I am a buffoon? Well you, sir, are a mooncalf." 

Someone asks you who you are, and how you got into the party. You hear police sirens.

7. "OK, I will leave. And unlike you, sir, I do so with my dignity intact." 

You retrieve your uncooked pig and your sumo suit and retire to your '93 Accord . And that is your Saturday night.

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