Tag Archives: oceans

How 600 Citizens Helped to Document an Underwater Epidemic

[A Sunflower Sea Star with several arms missing. Photo by Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr & CC 2.0 License.] 

In 2013,  something strange started happening to the starfish, or sea stars, that live along North America’s Pacific Coast. Casual observers began reporting starfish that were “dissolving” or “melting”.

What you first see is they start getting spots on them,” explains marine veterinarian Joseph “Joe” Gaydos of University of California Davis. “They [the sea stars]  start shrinking, and then legs start falling off…Legs will fall off and then crawl around, so it really is like something out of a horror show.”

In 2014,  researchers were able to identify a viral culprit as the immediate cause of the disintegrating sea stars, but we still know very little about how it spreads or which starfish species are most affected by it.

The dying sea stars that were easiest to spot were the ones that live close to shore.  But no one knew what the mysterious Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) was doing to the sea stars deep underwater and in the open ocean. 

“When the sea star wasting disease hit in the Salish Sea in 2013, my first thought was, ‘Gosh, we have 29 species of sea stars. Who’s going to get hurt?’”  Gaydos told me over the phone. 

Luckily, the Salish Sea, an area which includes Puget Sound in Washington State and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Canada,  is home to an organization called REEF. Since 2006, REEF has been training amateur divers to count the organisms they see, and over 8,000 of those dives have included sea star counts. 

Gaydos and his colleagues, led by Diego Montecino-Latorre, analyzed the data from REEF’s dives. They also supplemented the REEF data by systematically criss-crossing the Salish Sea’s basins, counting the starfish they saw.

And the data tell a story of devastation. At least, for some of the sea stars.  Continue reading “How 600 Citizens Helped to Document an Underwater Epidemic” »

Best Shortform Science Writing July-September 2016

(A Highly Subjective Round-up of Standout Science News)

[Image above by Silke Remmery via Flickr and CC 2.0 license] 

After nine months of searching through short science stories with an eye out for some of the best that the genre has to offer, I’ve come to a conclusion: Investigative pieces under 1200 words are rare.

Since the investigative genre often hinges on journalists showing their work and offering evidence on top of evidence on top of evidence, the relative dearth of short-n-sweet investigative pieces makes sense from a logistics perspective. At the same time, most members of the general public encounter science not through investigative reports but through brief segments on TV news shows and by the short but (hopefully) informative articles that crop up in Facebook news feeds.

And then we wonder why the public seems unable to effectively question science and why science journalists have a reputation for being less critical than their colleagues in business and political reporting…

Anyway, if you see any standout investigative or data pieces in the next few months, I hope you’ll share them with the editors of Best Shortform Science Writing. You can nominate stories via this Google form or simply by tagging us at @SciShortform on Twitter. (Be sure to include a link to the piece you’re nominating in your tweet!)

Special thanks to our editorial team’s new recruits– Dyani Lewis, a freelancer based in Hobart, Australia and Nola Taylor Redd, a freelancer based in Atlanta, Georgia– as well as our returning editors Sarah Lewin of Space.com and Amanda Alvarez of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.

Continue reading “Best Shortform Science Writing July-September 2016” »

New Gig: Acting Editor of Science Philosophy & History at Lateral Mag!

[A screenshot of the webzine Lateral’s home page. The theme of June is Sport.]

I am super-psyched to announce that I’m taking on a new part-time gig as editing stories on the history & philosophy of science at an up-and-coming webzine called Lateral.

It’s based out of Australia, has monthly themes like Nautilus, and is largely written and edited by grad students who are considering or transitioning into science writing careers. (And if, I’m not mistaken, that’s a large chunk of the audience here on this blog.)

I’ll still be posting original blog posts on this site every Thursday(ish)*and pitching stories as a freelancer. The good news is that if you’ve ever thought, “Hmm…I wish I could get Diana to edit some of my science writing,”  now you can, by pitching me stories and essay ideas for Lateral. 

Continue reading “New Gig: Acting Editor of Science Philosophy & History at Lateral Mag!” »

The Case of the Looming Octopus

[Photo  courtesy of David Scheel via Current Biology]

“Pitch Imperfect” is a series of blog posts where I highlight stories that I pitched but didn’t quite sell and discuss why it was tough to sell them. The goal is to share both interesting research stories and some of the obstacles in getting them into the news cycle.

Proposed Headline:

How Octopuses Communicate through their Color-Changing Skin

Proposed Dek (aka “the sub-headline” or  “social media blurb”)

Turning dark and “looming” is a warning; white with black splotches means surrender.

The Pitch

When a philosopher and a marine biologist set up cameras to record octopus’s mating behavior, they saw something they didn’t expect.

Octopuses- which many biologists describe as solitary, cannibalistic predators- appear to use their skin to send each other signals, according to their study in Current Biology.

The marine biologist, David Scheel, describes one example from their footage: “The first octopus comes up from the back, being very dramatic– standing tall and turning very dark. Then it tussles with the other octopus for a minute, until that octopus turns pale.”

Continue reading “The Case of the Looming Octopus” »