Cartilaginous fishes

July 31st 2019

This week the Discovery Channel holds its annual celebration of all matters shark-related. Without a doubt, sharks are fascinating: two-thirds of their brains are devoted to their sense of smell; they grow up to 50,000 teeth in a lifetime; shark embryos sometimes devour each other in the womb—what’s not to love? But for people in the Boston area, sharks are of more than just academic interest: 17 great white sharks have been seen in the waters off Cape Cod in the past week. 

Sharks... Read Post

August 13th 2014

Since Monday's post on Shark Week, I've received quite a few comments about the Discovery Channel's sensationalist and inaccurate Shark Week programming.  And rightly so. Shark Week producers have actually lied to scientists to get them to appear in programming, and  Discovery airs "documentaries" in which most of the material is made up. So don't watch Discovery Channel. And whatever you do, don't let Shark Week stop being about the sharks. The National Geographic Channel has some level-... Read Post

August 11th 2014
"Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that's all." --Hooper in Jaws. Those are great lines from a scary movie,  and you know what? They're true. Sharks have existed for at least 450 million years. That's almost twice as long as dinosaurs. And five major mass extinctions have occurred in the past 439 million years. Sharks survived them all. Miracle... Read Post
January 15th 2014
Yesterday's Boston Globe had a front page story on tiktaalik, a 375-million-year-old fish with limb-like fins and larger than average pelvic bones. Tiktaalik is of particular interest to scientists studying how animals transitioned from life in water to life on land in ancient times. If you would like to see a skeleton of this famous creature, along with a realistic-looking model of what it may have looked like in life, look no further than the Harvard Museum of Natural History, right next door... Read Post
August 9th 2013
Another Shark Week is drawing to a close, and a fine one it was, in spite of being marred by a spurious "documentary" and competition from a cat. And while sharks get all the publicity, I have been reminded by a co-worker that it's important to acknowledge the other members of the superorder of cartilaginous fishes. And if  you're sad that Shark Week is over, perhaps you can take a vacation to a town where every week is Shark Week.       I send you into the weekend with a poem: The Shark... Read Post
August 7th 2013
"Dark fins appear, innocent/as if in fair warning"--Denise Levertov, "The Sharks." "You may rest assured that the British government is entirely opposed to sharks"--Winston Churchill in Parliament, Prime Minister's Question Time, Feb. 20, 1945. We've barely begun to recover from the heart-stopping excitement of Sharknado, and here we are in the middle of Shark  Week, the Discovery Channel's annual celebration of all things squaline. And while I'm sure that most of the programming of SW 2013... Read Post