Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Selling Out

So you'll recall from the earlier post today that I've entered Ya Like Dags? into the next phase of its development.  I'd like to announce that I am now part of the nascent Southern Fried Science network.  I'll be keeping the blogspot address active just in case (mainly so people can see this post and then update their links accordingly) but I'm looking forward to the greater design flexibility, readership, and support involved in being part of a larger network (though not too large).  So yes, you can think of it as selling out, but selling out to an indie label.

The blog can now be seen at  The layout is very basic right now but I'll be tweaking it as I go.  Thanks for your continued support and readership, and don't be shy in the comments.

AES Conclusions and An Announcement

Below the jump you'll find a talk that I somehow managed to forget to discuss here on the blog, some parting remarks about the conference, and an announcement.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

AES Day 3.5

Day 3 of the AES conference was the big feeding symposium, and there was plenty to sink my teeth into (all puns always intended).  Today is mostly made up of the stress symposium, which is a little technical for my tastes but still interesting and an important topic.  As you saw yesterday, I decided to choose my social life over blogging, something the Hot Girlfriend and my friends who came into town to visit probably appreciate.  On to the good parts...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

AES Day 3 coming up

I had a good run so far, but thanks to social obligations I'll have to save the Day 3 update on the AES conference for later.  Stay tuned...

Friday, July 9, 2010

AES Day 2 - Day of the Dogfish

Today was the day when two of us from the Rulifson lab gave our presentations (Jen gave a talk, I stood by my poster and chatted with passers-by).  Perhaps by design it was also the day that the dogfish talks came out of the woodwork.  Lots of interesting new data was presented that will hopefully eventually give us a clue as to what's happening with this species.  I also washed all the dogfish talks down with some highly entertaining talks about tiger sharks, of both the standard and sand variety.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

AES Day 1

The first official day of talks wrapped up today, followed by a pretty sweet social at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.  I'll run down some of the more interesting stuff I heard about today in relatively short form below.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dogfish on Tour: The Providence Prelude

Your humble narrator is currently in the Great State of Rhode Island after a detour to the Jersey Shore to visit the Hot Girlfriend.  I'll be spending time with some friends until Wednesday, when  the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists gets underway.  I'll be attempting to provide regular updates from the conference (including my own poster presentation) and may try my hand at some live blogging (if I have the gumption to drag my laptop to a lot of talks).  I'm looking forward to meeting my fellow shark people and reconnecting with some old friends and advisors.  If you're attending the conference, I'll see you there.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Ya Like Dags? Social Guide to Rhode Island

Two posts in two days?  It's like I'm a real blogger all the sudden.

The occasion for this post is that next week I'll be participating in the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.  I'll be presenting a poster on my work as well as seeing an almost impossible number of shark talks thanks to the fact that the American Elasmobranch Society is rolling deep at this conference.  However, being at a conference alone is not what this post is about.  This post is about Rhode Island.

This particular conference is taking place in Providence, Rhode Island and is hosted by my undergrad alma mater.  Aside from being able to reconnect with some of my old professors and peers as well as being able to spend some time in a state I still very much consider home, this also presents me with an opportunity to show some of my North Carolinian colleagues (and any other shark people out there who want to hang out) just how awesome my little state can be.  Below the jump are some of my favorite places in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  I know that some of my old Rhody friends know of places that I've overlooked, so feel free to add any other points of interest in the comments.

Monday, June 28, 2010

First New England Great White of 2010

I'm headed back up to my motherland of Rhode Island next week for the Joint Meeting of Icthyologists and Herpetologists (mainly because of the heavy AES presence there), and it seems the great whites are going to be there to greet me.  The first New England great white of the summer has surfaced off of Boston, where it was caught, tagged, and released by a group of Gloucester fishermen.  The Dorsal Fin has a looped video of the shark taken by the fishermen.  Maybe I should bring my snorkeling gear with me...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Feeding Habits Analysis: Detective Work Part 2

In my previous post on the detective work necessary for any good feeding habits analysis, I lamented the apparent lack of a "one-stop shop" for looking up fish scales (at least as far as I've been able to find).  In response, I've been saving scales from fishes I've been albe to ID down to species level.  The idea is to match up these "type" scales with the scales often found with the unclassifiable chunks of fish that often show up in spiny dogfish stomach contents.  Below the jump you'll find the first three species in Chuck's Field Guide to Spiny Dogfish Bait.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Marine Rewilding?

It's amazing what you'll catch in the letters to the editor sometimes.  In the latest issue of Fisheries Magazine is a classic back-and-forth editorial origination from an article by researcher John. C. Briggs.  At first my interest was piqued simply by the fact that there was something ocean-related (since the start of my subscription Fisheries has been utterly dominated by freshwater articles), but reading the debate motivated me to go back and track down the original article.  What I found was one of the more unusual takes I've seen on the management of Atlantic fisheries, and an interesting parallel with a highly controversial conservation strategy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Angry Post

You may have noticed that I haven't been saying much about the white elephant (or big black blob) in the ocean.  This is for two reasons: first, I try to stick to my main subjects here, which are dogfish, shark research, and fisheries management.  I like to throw in some oddball internet stuff every so often but in general I try to write what I know.  Secondly, the BP disaster is being covered much more thoroughly in other forums.  Deep Sea News has been following the story from the beginning, and Southern Fried Science has a handy list of other places you can check to follow the progress of the oil as it destroys the Gulf of Mexico and potentially the entire Atlantic coast. 

Documents released today (or at least reported on today) reveal that BP knowingly and willingly cut corners in order to save time and money.  The company ignored advice from Halliburton that could have made the well much safer, and even turned a deaf ear to the Deepwater Horizon's own chief engineer, who called the situation a "nightmare well." 

I guess we can stop the finger pointing now (though BP CEO Tony Hayward's appearance before Congress on Thursday should be a hoot).  Yet again we see the end result of trusting profit-motivated entities to regulate themselves.  Will this time finally be the time we learn that this is a bad idea?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Feeding Habits Analysis: Detective Work

As anyone who's ever done a diet study will tell you, you end up getting a lot of unverifiable gunk in your study animal's stomach contents.  Sometimes enough of the consistency remains that you can tell generally what this chunk of meat used to be.  For example, it's pretty easy to tell fish meat from anything else thanks to identifying features like white meat and the pattern of musculature.  However, getting beyond this stage takes a little more work and creativity.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New England Great Whites Return

Here's an incredibly timely news item, given that my last post was a little Carcharodon carcharias humor and I'm watching "Expedition Great White" as I write this.  Last summer five great whites were tagged with satellite tracking tags as they hung out right off the beaches of Cape Cod.  Data coming in from the tags now suggests that at least one of the tagged sharks is on its way back for the summer.  There is anecdotal evidence that great white numbers are increasing off of New England, most likely due to the Cape's burgeoning harbor seal population.

This is great news for the marine ecosystem of New England, and ironically, for some surfers I've spoken to from the area.  I've heard stories of bull harbor seals harassing surfers right out of the water, so some among the Cape Cod surfing community are actually welcoming the return of the sharks.  Hopefully the chambers of commerce in the beachside towns of Cape Cod will be as reasonable.

This is a story I've been following as an amateur for a while.  Even though the main focus of this blog is sharks of a considerably smaller size, as both a salty New Englander and a big fan of sharks in general I get pretty enthusiastic about the return of great whites to the Northeast. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

New House, New Pet?

I'll be moving into a new apartment next month, and I've been wondering whether I want to get a pet to take advantage of the extra space.  Thanks to Rob for bringing this to my attention and helping me with the decision.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Woo! 50th post!

6 months, 50 posts.  Not a bad pace so far.  As the world watches the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and I prepare for another boat trip out to Cape Lookout (now that we've found the holdover population, the next step is to measure and tag some of them) let's take a moment to enjoy some video of the mighty spiny dogfish.  The first video shows the graceful movement and skittish behavior shown by spiny dogfish interacting with divers.  The second is the dogfish as consummate mesopredator, savaging a baited camera and driving off cod as they attempt to get a piece of the action.  Thanks for reading so far, and stick around for more small shark action. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Great Memorial Day Dogfish Hunt

Earlier I posted on a population of spiny dogfish that seem to be hanging out south of Cape Hatteras long after they are supposed to have migrated north.  As of this past weekend stories of spiny dogfish stealing bait and chasing fish continued from the waters between Morehead City and Cape Lookout.  On Monday a team comprised of Dr. Rulifson, Jen, Dan Z, and myself set out to the shallow, sandy waters on the inside of the Cape Lookout hook in search of these hungry stragglers.  Read on to see how the mission went...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DarWIN, not DarLOSE!

I've always thought the comedic talents of both Dana Carvey and Charles Darwin were highly underrated.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thoughts on North Carolina's Gill Net Issues

It's been a hot topic in this state for a while that gill nets are both important to the commercial fishing industry and highly controversial.  I personally know a couple people involved in this debate, and have been following it with some interest, though I haven't had a chance to really post anything on it until now.  Which is timely, because apparently management decisions have been made

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feeding Habits Analysis: Pizza Toppings

In my last post about the things I'm finding in shark puke, I discussed the presence of menhaden in the diet of spiny dogfish.  These fat, oil-rich fish make quite a nutritious meal, and it usually only takes a handful of them (or chunks of one of them) to fill an average dogfish stomach. 

However, there are times when the optimum meal just isn't available and you've got to go with quantity over quality.  The title of this post is a big hint as to what I'm talking about here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dogfish Where They're Really Not Supposed to Be

Earlier I posted about spiny dogfish sticking around in parts of North Carolina when the conventional wisdom says they should be heading north (and I'm still looking for more dogfish stories from the Beaufort/Morhead City area).  Well, it seems now that spiny dogfish aren't content with just being in estuaries, now they want to swim up the river itself.

Far from home.  From

According to multiple sources, a two-foot female spiny dogfish was found washed up on a boat ramp on the Ohio River in Illinois.  Though initially misidentified as a juvenile bull shark, this was quickly cleared up.  There are a few theories out there as to why this dogfish ended up in the Ohio River, including release from a home aquarium, being left as a prank (I know of an incidence of someone leaving a dead blue shark under the diving board in a public pool as a prank), fisheries discard, or being lost from a shipment headed for biology class dissections.  The fact that the spines have been removed suggests the latter, though it's likely we'll never know what caused this dogfish's extraordinary migration.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dogfish Diets and the Influence of Holden

I can never get enough of this picture.  Photo by Andy Murch.

As always, I have spiny dogfish and what they're eating on the brain, and the Menhaden of History post over at Southern Fried Science and Kevin Z's challenge to the marine blogosphere got me thinking about the papers that have helped form my own meager contributions to the field of shark puke analysis.  So today I'm going to try my hand at a little research blogging.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Feeding Habits Analysis: Tasty Menhaden Morsels

This week I finally got to start diving into my dogfish stomach contents, and the results so far have been nice and gory.  The post up at Southern Fried Science about the Menhaden of History really brought home the importance of these humble oily fish in the diets of just about everything bigger than them.  As the quote from G. Brown Goode states, "their mission is unmistakably to be eaten."

If the mission of menhaden (of which the Atlantic species has the deceptively badass Latin name Brevoortia tyrannus) is to be eaten, then the mission of the spiny dogfish is unmistakably to do the eating.  Though I've only scratched the surface of my samples so far, the gut contents I've analyzed have overwhelmingly included menhaden, either whole or in pieces.  Photographic evidence of the carnage the jaws and teeth of Squalus acanthias can create can be found below the jump.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How the Oil Spill Affects Fisheries

Kevin Z over at Deep Sea News has an interview with fisheries biologist Dave Kersetter that explains how the oil spill in the Gulf may affect (and is already affecting) the area's fisheries.  This should be required reading for anyone following the subject, and be sure to read up on the excellent coverage of the spill going on over at Deep Sea News.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spiny Dogfish Where They're Not Supposed to Be

It's been brought to the attention of myself and others in my lab that spiny dogfish have been turning up in North Carolina waters south of Cape Hatteras in the past couple weeks.  According to the conventional wisdom they should all have been heading north to summer off of New England about a month ago.  I was fishing down at Atlantic Beach just a week or so ago and saw no spinies, but plenty of people were pulling up smooth dogfish.  However, call-ins and the fishing reports have been mentioning spiny dogfish showing up in apparently considerable numbers. 

If any intrepid readers happen to catch any spiny dogfish in the Beaufort/Morehead City/Atlantic Beach area please let me know as a comment in this post.  Photographic evidence would be appreciated, and can be sent to  Just as a refresher, here's how you identify a spiny dogfish:

Image from Maryland DNR
Spiny dogfish can be easily told from other small sharks by the spines present on both dorsal fins.  Other helpful features include the lack of an anal fin and the generally dusky coloration with scattered white spots.  

Smooth dogfish will be much lighter colored, have an anal fin, and lack dorsal fin spines.  Sharpnose sharks can be very similarly-colored, but again will have an anal fin and lack dorsal spines.  These are really the only species in the area that might get visually confused with spiny dogfish.

It'll be another couple days before I can get back down there and try to catch any dogfish for myself, so any sightings would be appreciated.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Live!

Yeah, it's been a while.  I've finally dug my way out from under the end of the semester mess and after exams tomorrow I'll be a free man for the summer (at least until I start teaching).  As I take a break from studying to remind you that I still exist, here are some of the things I've been remiss in writing about:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lame Apologetic Post

Sorry about the sudden drop in activity.  It's term paper season here in North Carolina and all the writing I've been doing lately has been going towards those.  There are a lot of things I want to write about here and hopefully will get a chance to post in the next week or so.  Thanks for your patience, and stay tuned.  There will be more dogfish goodness on here as soon as I dig myself out from under the end of the semester.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Man vs. Squid - Your Salmon Need You!

And fishermen thought spiny dogfish were bad... From

Humboldt squid (Docidicus gigas) are undoubtedly badass animals.  Growing up to 6 feet long, capable of living in virtually oxygen-free water, and occasionally cooperating to drag divers to their doom, this species doesn't even need any hyperbole to star in its own SyFy Original.  I'd even consider these velociraptors of the sea more impressive than the giant and colossal squids, despite the fact that they're "merely" the third largest squid species.  Why?  Unlike the other cephalopod heavyweights, Humboldts occur in huge numbers, and they're spreading.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ew, Just Ew

As a budding marine scientist, I've had to see fish dismember themselves in fishing gear, dissect things that look like they crawled out of the Star Wars cantina, dispose of rapidly-thawing specimens dated from 2003 (while the wind was blowing the smell and pieces of the fish themselves back in my face), and of course for my thesis I'm actively encouraging spiny dogfish to puke into bags.  And in no way is my experience as a wanna-be marine biologist really all that unique; in fact plenty of my fellow grad students do far grosser things on a daily basis.  In marine science, you eventually start taking your strong stomach for granted.

However, sometimes something comes along that finally manages to genuinely shock you.  Something so bizarre that it becomes simultaneously hilarious and disturbing, and you find yourself forcing everyone around to pay attention to it, just so you can convince yourself that you're not crazy.  Here's the catch; a lot of the time it involves dolphins.

(Warning, the rest of this post will be made up of a juvenile rant about an act that is apparently legal in Florida.)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rhode Island Flooding

The Warwick Mall in Warwick, Rhode Island.  Photo from the Providence Journal.

I've been really remiss on posting about this before, but the state of Rhode Island was nearly sunk by heavy rainfall this week.  The rain has finally stopped and the floodwaters are starting to recede, but Lil' Rhody will have a long way to go to recover.  However, the water rose high enough to cover several sewage treatment plants, which could spell disaster for the both the beach season and the state's fisheries, two of the main economic drivers in a state that was second only to Michigan in being hit the hardest by the economic downturn.  Shellfishing has been shut down north of Black and Sakonnet Points; for those unfamiliar with Rhode Island geography that shuts out pretty much the entire Narragansett Bay.  Rhode Islanders can probably look forward to serious water quality problems for years to come. 

To say that Rhode Island has figured prominently in my life would be a massive understatement.  I learned to love the ocean by playing in its tide pools as a kid, went to URI as an undergrad, and even worked for the Rhode Island DEM for a time.  Numerous pictures of the damage are floating around on the internet, most of places that I used to either frequent or drive by on an almost-daily basis.  So far I haven't been able to find anywhere to donate to help out, so if anyone finds something along those lines let me know so I can post it here. 

Route 95 near T.F. Green airport.  From the Providence Journal.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CITES and Sharks - The Sordid History

I wanted to post this earlier while it was still a bit more timely, but then real life got in the way.

The big news last week was the complete smackdown of conservation efforts for marine species at CITES (even the porbeagle, initially thought to be the one success story, got hosed).  The marine blogosphere (including this blog) cried foul; Southern Fried Science gave us the list of failures, and Guilty Planet lamented the inability of policymakers to think of fish as wildlife

It was about this time that I went back to a book I had read a few months ago, Biology and Management of Dogfish Sharks (a great source of info if you like your sharks small and numerous).  Sonja Fordham from the Ocean Conservancy contributed an excellent chapter on the history of dogfish and shark management in both the US and internationally by CITES, and it should be essential reading for anyone interested in the political side of conservation.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tidewater Recap - Only a Week Late

Last weekend some members of ECU's AFS student unit (including yours truly) headed up to Annapolis, Maryland for the annual meeting of the AFS Tidewater Chapter (which includes fisheries professionals and students from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina).  Not only was this my first true fisheries conference, but I also gave a poster presentation on my work so far.  Here's a short form recap of the weekend, and a couple (non-incriminating) pictures.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Porbeagles Rejoice!

This porbeagle is psyched.  Photo by Andy Murch.

After the doom and gloom CITES news, it looks like not every animal up for listing got hosed.  News is trickling in that despite the inability of the UN to agree that polar bears need protection, porbeagles managed to make Appendix II.  This is great news for a species that has been in trouble for a long time, even if the Canadian population is starting to annoy some commercial fishermen.  I sure am going to miss bluefin tuna, though...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CITES Results

The Southern Fried Scientist sums it up rather nicely.

No protection for anything at CITES.

Thanks for comin' out.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ocean Conservation Smackdown at CITES

The Tidewater meeting went well and I'll have a recap of that soon, but I decided the results of the latest CITES (U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) vote should be commented on first.  Read on to see just how trying it can be to be an ocean conservationist.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dogfish on Tour

One of the perks of being a grad student is that you're considered professional enough to be sent to conferences in your field.  This weekend I'll be at the annual meeting of the AFS Tidewater chapter in Annapolis, MD.  I'll be giving a poster presentation on my work so far on Thursday night, so if you're attending this event or are in the area stop by and cheer me on or heckle me mercilessly.  Several of my lab-mates and fellow grad students will be there as well presenting their work.

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Scoreboard and Conclusions

Now that I'm back in NC and (relatively) settled, here's the scoreboard and final thoughts on my time aboard the Bigelow

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sharks vs. Cephalopods - The Battle Continues

A brief intermission from Spring Break: Contintental Shelf (I'll have the final data scoreboard up soon).  I wanted to post on this earlier but was busy puking dogfish.  It looks like more shots have been fired in the never-ending conflict between sharks and cephalopods.

A little history: sharks have long been in conflict with octopi and squid over who gets to be the badass rulers of the ocean.  A certain YouTube video of a Pacific giant octopus taking out a spiny dogfish in an aquarium fanned the flames, though all true elasmophiles know that giant octopus show up frequently in the diets of larger Pacific sharks.  Then Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus was released, and the conflict exploded into full-scale war (at least in my house; I used to room with noted cephalopod freak Matt).  Though Sharktopus may represent a first step in the peacemaking process, the conflict continues unabated.

That's a lot of links.

The latest news from the battlefield is that the shark heavyweight may be regularly taking out the cephalopod heavyweight (tip o' the hat to Dan for the link).  Micheal Domeier has been satellite-tagging great white sharks and has tracked them to an apparently barren part of the Pacific.  However, this area does have a plethora of squid, including the much-feared Architeuthis, and is already utilized as a feeding ground for sperm whales.  The sharks in this area are making deep dives, and at least one massacred giant squid was found floating around. 

As the article points out, Domeier does have a habit of making the most of his screen time, and his methods have been controversial.  However, when it comes to sharks I'm about as fair and balanced as Fox News, so in your face, squid freaks!

Also came the news that the dogfish vs. octopus video was staged.  So sad that cephalopods have to resort to blatant propaganda...

Now that I've thrown around all those fightin' words, what say the cephalopod fans?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 16 - Heading for Home

Sunrise on the last day of sampling.

Well, all good things must come to an end and Spring Break: Continental Shelf is no exception.  The last sampling station was towed earier this afternoon off of Delaware Bay, and now the Bigelow is steaming back to Newport, where I'm told we'll be docking sometime before lunch tomorrow.  I'll be taking a break hanging out in Newport with some friends for a few days after, so if you're in the Rhode Island area let me know.  

Thanks to everyone who's been reading so far, and do stick around.  There is plenty more red hot spiny dogfish action (not to mention shark-related nerdiness) on the way.  Now that I've collected all this data, it's time to see where it all goes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 15 - Winding Down

Sorry about the lack of updates yesterday.  There were two deck tows and all the rest were huge hauls as well.  All I wanted to do after my shift was sleep. 

Also, the last North Carolina station was towed at the beginning of my shift yesterday, which means I've lavaged every dogfish I'm going to get for this cruise.  Now it's time to take stock of the data I've collected, enjoy being a normal volunteer crew member, and catch up on school work (internet access at sea is a double-edged sword).  I've also gotten copies of the raw data from the tows, so I'm already taking a preliminary look at any trends that might be popping up.

So while I relentlessly copy down data, enjoy this picture of the spiny dogfish's jaws of death.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf: Day 13 - Dogfishpalooza or Dogfishpocalypse?

While the catches heading south in the near-shore stations were dominated by massive, mature females, the trawls heading back north through the offshore stations have hit the mother load.  I've been frantically trying to get data on all the smaller and male sharks while I'm still in North Carolina waters so I can even out the demographics on my study.  Unfortunately there are fewer sampling stations heading north so I'm trying to do more with less while hopefully preventing any one tow from biasing the data. 

Which is tough to do when some of the tows look like this:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 12 - Southern Safari

Most of day 12 was spent south of Cape Hatteras trawling some very interesting subtropical species.  With the exception of one tow, spiny dogfish were virtually absent from the area (though when they did decide to show up they showed up in numbers).  Which isn't to say there weren't plenty of other sharks to keep me occupied (see below the jump). 

I was hoping to get some lavages south of Cape Hatteras and wasn't disappointed when the opportunity presented itself.  Though spiny dogs are known as a temperate/cold water species, when in warm waters they'll gladly eat warm water species.  Some of the most interesting and colorful stomach contents were found in that one tow.

Now that we're north of Hatteras we're running into massive schools of dogfish, which are still dominated by mature females but are finally starting to include significant numbers of males.  This provides the opportunity to compare diet by sex within the same school.  Tomorrow will be another long sampling day (and then after that I believe we leave North Carolina waters).

And now that you've suffered through the boring back story, here are the shark pictures:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 11 - Crossing the Border

Two posts in one day!  Enjoy while it lasts, I may never manage this again.

Today the Bigelow made it past Cape Hatteras to do a little southern sampling.  I'd hoped to get some spiny dogfish diet data from south of the Cape but it appears that at least this far offshore the spiny dogfish switch is set to "off."  This is very interesting given that my own major professor and several of his students have done quite a bit of work on spiny dogfish south of Cape Hatteras.  At least as far as this cruise is concerned, the spinies have been replaced with smooth dogfish.

That said, I managed to get nearly a hundred successful lavages in before crossing south of Hatteras.  The entire fish community really does shift here, and this was exemplified by this first tow in the area, which brought up something completely different...

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Pictures from Day 10

As promised yesterday, here are pictures from yesterday's sampling fest.  Behold the glory of gastric lavage.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 10 - Sampling!

Just got off a watch and a half of dogfish sampling, and it was encouragingly productive.  I had been intimidated by the low catches we were getting off of Delaware and north of the Chesapeake Bay but as soon as we crossed the North Carolina state line it was like someone flipped on the dogfish switch.  There haven't been any obnoxiously huge dogfish catches so far, but it has been a comfortably steady 6-17 dogfish per trawl today.  I stayed for a few tows after my shift was over to make sure I had extra coverage for the North Carolina stations.  Here's the scoreboard as of right now:

7 North Carolina stations towed
53 North Carolina dogfish lavaged
17 dissected to gauge efficiency (all others released, some of these were from outside NC waters)
All sharks were females over 70 cm total length

I'll have pictures and commentary up tomorrow (plus a whole new day of sampling), but for now I am beat.  I'll be having visions of spiny dogfish circling my head.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf: Day 9 - Heart of Darkness

The ship is currently hanging out at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to avoid some weather, so sampling has been suspended for the day.  For a while the seas were among the roughest I've seen, and then when snow started flying I just had to get some pictures.  Even the seasoned members of the crew were making Deadliest Catch references. 

At this point of the cruise I'm starting to feel like Martin Sheen going up the river in Apocalypse Now.  At some point tomorrow we hit North Carolina waters and I get very busy.  I'm hoping that we get a good chunk of the NC stations done during my watch, but that depends on how many Chesapeake stations we have to get through first.  Either way I'm probably going to be up for the entire day tomorrow frantically collecting dogfish puke.  Much coffee will be consumed.  I'll probably be hallucinating by the end.

On the plus side, I've taken the liberty of testing the efficiency of the tube lavage method.  Basically this means that I'm performing lavage on the dogfish already doomed to be sacrificed for the Bigelow's own diet data, and comparing the weight of what I get them to spit up to what's left in the stomach.  After a few minor tweaks I'm getting near-100% efficiency, which is awesome!  We'll see how that holds up when I'm trying to sample 20-30 dogfish per tow in the next couple days.

Nasty weather pictures below the jump.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 7 - The Dogfish Have Landed

Not a whole lot to update on today, except that spiny dogfish have started showing up in numbers in the trawls.  This is a good sign, as it seems the general trend is that they're getting more abundant as we travel south (we're currently working our way down past Delaware Bay).

Overexposed dogfish.

The interesting thing about the dogfish we've been catching is that so far they've all been nearly fully-grown females.  This goes against what the literature has lead me to expect, since most of the conventional wisdom on dogfish is that the large females are close to shore and the males are offshore where the Bigelow would catch them.  Instead I've seen mostly large, mature females, and these have been more abundant in the offshore samples.  This may have to do with the low water temperature in the New Jersey/Delaware stations, and goes a long way to explain the prevalence of skates in the trawls.  It'll be interesting to see how this breaks down once we get off of North Carolina.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Day 6 - First Sampling

After hanging out in port for a couple days, the Bigelow is now ship-shape (I will never apologize for puns) and spent yesterday steaming down to the first sample sites off of New Jersey.  Being on the midnight-noon watch, I was on hand when we hit the first station.  Of course, being one of the newbie volunteers, I snapped pictures like a ravenous tourist (kudos go out to fellow volunteer Mary who snapped some of the "at-work" photos while I was helping work up fish).  My own thesis sampling won't start until we hit the North Carolina strata later this week, but aside from being part of how I earn my keep aboard the ship, these early tows are important for helping me get the rhythm down and know how to fit my own stuff in. 

Pictures and play-by-play commentary below the jump.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Pictures from Days 1 and 2

The laptop has officially been cleared for the ship's network, so in the future I'll be integrating pictures into the posts.  For now though, read the previous post and see if you can match these pictures up to it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spring Break: Continental Shelf - Days 1 and 2

Sorry about the lack of updating yesterday.  Like any good marine biologist I've been sidelined with a massive case of seasickness.  I seem to be over it now so here's a quick recap of the past couple days.  Pictures will be added in a future post after my laptop get scanned for viruses tomorrow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bring Me That Horizon

After a slight miscommunication that nearly kept me from getting through the gate (and I was afraid would get me shot or arrested... mostly shot) I have been aboard the Bigelow since about 9 this morning.  We set off from sunny Newport, RI a little after 11, and are currently starting our way down to the Mid-Atlantic region (off the east coast of the U.S, not the Mid-Atlantic Ridge).  I am currently typing this on the computer available in the quarters, but hope to talk to the proper channels about getting my laptop set up to work on the ship's network.  Yes, I already have pretty pictures to share.  Hopefully I can share them soon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Title of a Lonely Island Song

After what can only be described as "hell week," I'm finally ready to embark on the biggest adventure in my grad school career (though I hear the AFS Tidewater meeting can get pretty raucous).  Starting tomorrow I'll be heading up to my old stomping grounds in Rhode Island where I'll meet the NOAA R/V Henry Bigelow and it will become my home for nearly three weeks. 

The Bigelow apparently maintains a satellite linkage for constant internet access.  That means I'll be chiming in fairly regularly with updates on how the research is going/funny stories from the sea/pictures of badass marine life and/or shark puke.  Oh yes, there will be pictures.

Until the next update, enjoy the NSFW celebration of my next three weeks below the jump.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

One down...

Thesis proposal defense: successful.  Now the matter of this boat trip...

Monday, February 15, 2010


So I've been talking a big game so far about spiny dogfish, shark/fisherman interactions, and my own research (and let's not forget the Sharktopus), but tomorrow is the first of many, many times I'll be forced to put my money where my mouth is.  That's right, the thesis proposal defense is tomorrow, where I present everything I've been working on for the past semester and a half to a small crowd of my mentors and hope I haven't left any holes big enough to tear the whole project apart.  After that, spiny dogfish and their stomach contents own me for the next year and a half (at least).  Then I get to defend the whole thing

But that's old news for most of the readers, as I'm pretty sure everyone who reads this blog is in grad school.  Immediately following (and I do mean just about immediately) will be (hopefully) some inshore sampling and then I live on the Bigelow until just about the end of Spring Break.  Don't worry, I'll be bringing a camera.

Update tomorrow, after I've either celebrated or drowned my sorrows.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Awesome" is the Word You're Looking For

DSN has taken to posting their Twitter posts daily on the blog, and this usually leads to some pretty entertaining finds (plus my first porbeagle post got a shout-out... I'm internet famous!).  However, nothing I had seen previously could prepare me for this...

Yes, this is on my screen saver now.  From

Apparently the next great monster movie from SyFy will be titled simply "Sharktopus" and will feature, according to this article, something even stranger than the above concept painting.
This leads your humble author to speculate on whether this is the end result of cinematic tour-de-force "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus," which ended with (spoiler alert!) an apparent fight to the death between its two stars.  I'm suggesting that perhaps the octopus and shark realized they had more in common than they thought, and after sinking out of sight, talked it out over some coffee, and, just maybe, fell in love...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More on Gulf of Maine Porbeagles

 Photo by Andy Murch.

First off, peace to Captain Phil.

Recently Underwater Times has linked to a couple more stories about the population of porbeagles interacting with fishermen in the Gulf of Maine.  This whole story has some interesting parallels with the spiny dogfish situation, except in this case with a much larger shark with a much less controversial conservation status.  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Grad School Life

A little personal update for those of you keeping score at home.

Field work is heating up.  In the next two weeks I'm either due to be on a week-long cruise (possibly with only a day's notice... weeeee...) or on a couple day trips for some inshore sampling.  After that I'll be hopping on the NOAA R/V Henry Bigelow until mid-March.  All while teaching and going to class.  If nothing else, grad school really teaches you how to multitask.

This of course goes hand in hand with defending my thesis proposal, which will be fit in there somewhere. 

At times like these it's important to stop and remember why you're trying to line all this stuff up.  In my case it's because I'm about to be out on the high sees playing with small sharks.  And that's pretty cool.

Start looking for field work-related posts soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bait in the Water

Both fishing and a lot of marine science are generally all about dropping some bait in the water and seeing what happens.  Swiped from Climate Shifts by way of DSN, here's a selection of possible outcomes when you drop a baited camera in the waters off Australia.

My personal favorites: the hammerhead repeatedly smacking against the camera (I can just imagine it thinking "curse you, evolution!") and the repeated, and ultimately successful, attempts by a massive tiger shark at separating bait from camera (including the near-demise of a sea snake hanging out in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Enjoy, and go Saints.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Trouble with Models

Today I'm going to talk about something that has proven to be both a blessing and a curse to fisheries management.  I'm going to talk about modeling. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sharks from Home

Short but sweet post today on some shark news from my old stomping grounds in New England, courtesy of Underwater Thrills.

First off, a short and breezy documentary on blue sharks off the coast of my home state of Rhode Island:

Snappa Charters has been running shark dives out of the Port of Galilee in Narragansett for decades.  I remember seeing the shark cage on the back of their boat when I was a kid and wondering what it would be like to cage dive with some of the Atlantic's finest.  One day...

To prove just how sharky the cool waters up North can be, here's another story about great whites marked with satellite tags off of Massachusetts.  The first tag has popped up and Greg Skomal of the Mass DMF is going over the data.  This first shark made it all the way to Florida, so it should be some interesting stuff.

And of course, no discussion of New England sharks would be complete without linking to Captain Tom's New England Sharks site.  This site is a testament to the amount of knowledge that fishermen can provide on the marine ecosystem. 

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Plague of Sharks" in the Gulf of Maine

Gimme your fish and no one gets hurt.  Photo by Andy Murch.

I found this story on Underwater Times and thought it was interesting given how deep into fisherman/shark relations any work with dogfish requires you to go.  Apparently a new shark has begun to assert itself as one of the dominant pest species in the Gulf of Maine.  This shark is the porbeagle (Lamna nasus) and the fact that it is now being put on the same level as the humble dogfish says a lot about the relationship between sharks and people and state of the Gulf of Maine fishery. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Research: the Cliff-Notes Version

So now that I've introduced myself, defended the honor of the spiny dogfish, and posted some nice pictures, it's time to toss some science-in-progress into the mix.  Eventually, I'm hoping to profile some of the projects being pursued by my lab-mates and friends, and I might as well take the lead with my own humble thesis.  This is what will likely be defining my life for the next two years (at a minimum), barring any disasters during the proposal defense.  Any brand new grad students reading should take heed; this is the level of work expected of you.

First off, some background.  I'm doing my grad work at East Carolina University under the direction of Dr. Rulifson (whose spiny dogfish work can be seen at - check the Contact section for a certain handsome devil).  I've been interested in sharks and shark research since I was but a wee lad, and as stated two posts down, I'm convinced that spiny dogfish are secretly some of the most interesting sharks out there.  So here it is for your reading pleasure; the quick and dirty version of my thesis proposal.  Keep in mind that this is written for a blog audience, so I've kept the technical aspects and scientific language to a minimum (I do have citations though).  Since any good thesis lives or dies on feedback, questions and comments are encouraged.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sharks on the Web: Elasmodiver

The better to eat you with...  Photo by Andy Murch

After the previous post's lengthy manifesto, tonight I'll just point you in the direction of a really awesome shark-related website.  I've been a fan of Andy Murch's work at Elasmodiver for years; his amazing photographs of sharks have been a fixture of my screen saver and powerpoints (all credited).  The dogfish photo lurking behind the title of this very blog is his work.  Andy's latest project is the Predators in Peril exhibition, a collection of conservation-themed shark photography.  Unfortunately this seems to be happening exclusively on the west coast for now, but hopefully it makes its way east at some point.  Until then, check out Andy's website for some of the best undersea photography on the internet, and for a very useful and accurate field guide to sharks and rays.  A few of my favorites below the jump...

In Defense of the Spiny Dogfish

"Voracious beyond belief, dogfish deserve their bad reputation among many fishermen."  - Bigelow and Schroeder's Fishes of the Gulf of Maine

As anyone with any kind of familiarity with Squalus acanthias will tell you, these are deeply unpopular animals.  Fishermen have cursed the name "dogfish" for almost as long as commercial fishing has existed, and recent efforts at dogfish management have not made them any more sympathetic.  Despite evidence of overfishing, these small sharks are still capable of turning up in massive numbers, swamping and damaging fishing gear, and devouring the catch.  They lack the nobility of many of their shark cousins; you're not likely to see them making majestic leaps like great whites and makos, and they haven't earned the respect of sport fishermen like porbeagles or thresher sharks.  For these reasons conservation of the spiny dogfish has been contentious at best. 

So why would anyone in their right mind want to study these fish except to try and find ways of eradicating them?  I make no secret that I fall on the side of conservation when it comes to this issue (though I want to see management of these sharks done right, but that's for another post).  Hopefully this post will illustrate some of the reasons I think spiny dogfish deserve at least a little respect.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


And "Ya Like Dags?" is born.

I'm Chuck, a grad student in North Carolina working on a study of spiny dogfish feeding habits and community interactions. I figured that since I'm doing some work that some might find interesting, and because I've spent a good chunk of my online time reading blogs about marine science (Deep Sea News and Southern Fried Science have been inspirations), I'd throw my hat into the blogging ring. I'm hoping to use this blog as a source of outreach for my research and hope to get some of my fellow researchers to chime in about theirs (some of which is much more interesting than mine). I'll also be writing about marine science news and other interesting research that I happen across, and since this is the internet, there will probably be a fair amount of YouTube videos and other goofiness as well. There will be an overarching theme of dogfish, sharks, fisheries, and marine science.

As to origins of this blog's ridiculous title, it comes partially from a line in the excellent Guy Ritchie movie Snatch, and partially from a fishing trip. My friends and I were out fishing off of Rhode Island and ran into a big school of spiny dogfish. Thinking it was witty, I asked my fishing buddies if they "liked dags" as I pulled one up. Somehow, it caught on to the point where we no longer call these little sharks dogfish, we just call them "dags." Since I'm now researching these animals, i guess my answer to this blog's title is "yes, I like dags."