Sam's Blog

Twenty-four hours is like three weeks!

Archive for the ‘sea life’ Category

Sammy and Agouti in Costa Rica

Posted by samgr on October 4, 2007

Puerto Viejo continues to be fun and hilarious. I saw an agouti a few feet away from the cabin I’m staying at, and continue to be offered pot absolutely wherever I am. I was actually floating in the ocean about forty feet from the beach and a guy drifts by in a kayak: hey man, good ganja? That’s just silly.

I continue to meet people, both interesting and not-so-interesting. A lot of vacationing Americans like to come up to me and talk about how much they hate Israel. I’m not sure what about me brings out this in people. I got it in Greece too, but more often from Greeks. It’s like a weird roller-coaster ride. Blah blah Bush sucks, ok sure, blah blah, oil, neo-cons, blah blah, Israel. Wait, what’s the last stop? How did we even get here? Bill Kristol, Billy Crystal, something? Smeh. I guess I’m a good listener, and the actual Israelis (who make up a significant plurality of foreigners traveling in Costa Rica) are presumably less receptive.

I’m eating a lot of fish, obviously. Today I had some very good Nicaraguan-style fish soup for lunch, and I’m likely to have some kind of fish for dinner. A lot of the different kinds I’m not familiar with though. Like what is Dorado? Wikipedia ahoy!

UPDATE: So dorado is mahi-mahi, which is a good choice ecologically, as opposed to red snapper, which is horrifically over-fished. The more you know.


Posted in Costa Rica, fish, food, Israel, sea life, travel | 4 Comments »

Blog Stat-Watch (Everybody Loves Liopleurodons)

Posted by samgr on March 25, 2007

One of the slightly OCD things that wordpress lets me do with this blog is to see how people get to it: what sites they link from, or what searches they use. This isn’t exactly a widely-read blog, but about 90% of the people who do look at it still do so because they were google-searching for information about liopleurodons, which I think is kind of hilarious. I hope these people find what they were looking for here, or at least are interested in what I said on the topic. (Maybe they leave angry, because I crush their dreams of 200-foot liopleurodons leaping out of the water and snatching elephants.) This certainly means that I should move forward and write another entry about a different prehistoric animal, even just in terms of generating interest. Any ideas? I’m thinking either woolly mammoths or pteranodons.

P.S. No one thus far has arrived at this blog looking for my reactions to scientific optimism.

Posted in internet, liopleurodons, meta, prehistory, sea life | Leave a Comment »

Stuff I Wrote for Another Site

Posted by samgr on February 21, 2007

Check it out:

Contraption: Part 1
Space Speeches
Contraption: Part 2

Posted in language, Open Source, science, sea life, space, technology | Leave a Comment »

Prehistoric Creatures: the Liopleurodon

Posted by samgr on January 8, 2007

UPDATE: Read this post.  Enjoy it.  But if you LOVE liopleurodons (and who in the name of Sam Hill doesn’t), you should check out my new blog project here:

You will not regret it.  Now back to your regularly scheduled post.

This will be the first of a series of entries on prehistoric creatures that I think are relevant to modern life.


Liopleurodons will probably never be as popular as woolly mammoths and t-rexes, and their name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but this giant sea reptile seems to have entered the public consciousness a bit more lately. This can probably be traced to two things:

1. The inclusion of a big scary liopleurodon in one of those BBC-produced “Walking With Dinosaurs” TV-shows a few years back; looking cool and doing improbable things like leaping out of the water and devouring large dinosaurs.

2. A recent cameo in a upsetting cartoon.

This is all well and good. I like liopleurodons. I am skeptical, however, of the sloppy science that the “Walking With Dinosaurs” people employed to make their liopleurodon size estimates. Based on the liopleurodon fossils that people have found, the animals probably got to be about thirty feet long. This is pretty respectable, I think. However, the “Walking With Dinosaurs” folks depicted their liopleurodons as seventy-five feet long, based on a chain of dubious logical leaps. (A sea reptile fossil was found in Mexico in 2002 that was about forty-five feet long. It probably wasn’t even a liopleurodon, but people briefly thought that it might be; what’s more it seemed to be a juvenile, so whatever it was might have gotten even larger with full growth. This was good enough for the television show to report with the appearance of authority a wildly inflated size estimate for their liopeurodon.)

This sort of thing bugs me. I think that giant sea reptiles are cool enough already without dumbing down the science to tell me that they were far bigger than they actually were. Prehistoric monsters are more interesting to me than the Abominable Snowman, say, because prehistoric monsters were real and the Abominable Snowman is not. So I want to know about scientists’ best guesses about what is true. If these shows are ostensibly about education, they should use good science, and not cave into the principle of stating whatever sounds coolest from the range of what is conceivably possible. And it’s not like giant toothy sea reptiles are lame or garden-variety if they are ONLY thirty feet long.

And now in sources like the web, misinformation will propagate, because most people will write down and repeat the most impressive version of the facts they hear. A similar thing happens with another real, but non-extinct animal: the giant squid. Since stories about giant squids tend towards hyperbole anyway, even sources that proclaim to be scientific throw around inflated size figures more or less solely because people think that bigger monsters are cooler monsters. They’re cool enough! I think there is no need for exaggeration.

(The author Richard Ellis has written two very good books — one about giant squids and one about prehistoric sea reptiles — that provide rigorous and non-flighty looks at both of these very large sea creatures. Fun to check out, and they stick to real science.)

In a weird way, this relates to what bugged me about Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. I should get it out of the way that I think the film was extremely well-motivated and provided a vitally important public service. But at the same time, it bothered me that it dumbed down the science: showing graphs without labeled axes, and not going into any depth about how the data being talked about was obtained. After seeing the movie, I read the book The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery, and the contrast was quite striking. The book made pretty much the exact same points as Gore’s film, but made them by letting the reader in on the science that can get us to those points. When an author or filmmaker assumes intelligence on the part of the audience, a better and more thorough case can be made.

On the other hand, Gore’s film seems to have made an impact where many other projects simply could not, clearing away some of the manufactured arguments against the crisis of human-influenced climate change. So am I giving the public too much credit? Am I just being a snob? What do you think?

And that’s why I like liopleurodons.

Posted in climate change, prehistory, science, sea life, truth | 4 Comments »

Sardines Are Great!

Posted by samgr on January 5, 2007

So here’s a dilemma.

More and more evidence is emerging that eating fish is really, really good for you. Recent studies have shown that consuming a lot of fish — an excellent natural source of omega-3 fatty acids — can help you to live a longer and healthier life by staving off heart disease and dementia. Plus, if you have moral or environmental qualms about meat-eating in general, but also have health or quality-of-life concerns about swearing off all forms of animal protein, pesco-vegetarianism can look like an attractive option.

(Bias alert: I am a vegetarian who eats fish.)

On the other hand, there are also some possible health concerns about eating a lot of fish, mainly because of the possibility of high concentrations of mercury, PCBs, and other harmful chemicals that can build up in seafood. Also, from an environmental perspective, overfishing and poor resource-management has led to the collapse of many populations of once-abundant species of edible fish. In November, a paper published in Science predicted the collapse of most of the ocean life that people rely on for food by 2048 if human activities continue unchanged.
And fish-farming isn’t necessarily much better; the runoff from farms can cause its own environmental problems. What’s more, if farmed fish are fed ground-up wild-caught fish, as they often are, the environmental impact can actually be exacerbated.

With all of these sometime conflicting factors at play, what is an aspiring fish-eater to think? One easy element of a solution: eat sardines.


I love sardines, and I want you to as well. Here are some of the great reasons to eat them.

Health: Sardines are great for you. They have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, even for fish. They also have very low levels of chemical contaminanation. This is because they are small and low on the food-chain. A big fish like a tuna eats many smaller fish, which in turn eat many even smaller fish, and so on. Any contaminants pass from the fish being eaten to the fish doing the eating, and become more highly concentrated, so big fish like tuna and swordfish can be especially dangerous. Sardines, on the other hand, are safe enough to eat as often as you like, according to the Oceans Alive website.

Environmental Impact: Sardines are generally harvested in an environmentally friendly manner, and are a renewable source of seafood. Sardines (as well as young herring, which are sometimes sold as sardines) are quick-growing and spawn several times a year, making them a resilient fishery. In addition, they are usually caught with purse seines or midwater trawls, which are less environmentally disruptive than other forms of fishing. (For more info on this, again check out Oceans Alive. It’s a neat and useful website.)

Delicious-ness: Sardines are delicious. I’ve never even had fresh sardines, only canned, but the canned ones are great too. They have wonderful flavor and are great on toast or crackers, maybe with some lemon. I’ve also made the sardine toast recipe in The Joy of Cooking, which is very nice as well. My grandfather swears by sardine sandwiches with onion. They have a fairly strong flavor, and if you don’t like other kinds of fish, you probably won’t like sardines. But then, if you don’t like fish, I’m surprised that you’ve read this far.

Cultural Cachet: Sardines occupy a unique position in our shared cultural and literary heritage. This is mostly because of the interesting way that they come to us: packed tightly in cans which once upon a time were opened with an external key. From this image we get the ubiquitous phrase, “packed in like sardines.” Sardines packed in their tins present an image of the organic oppressed by the inorganic which has frequently struck a chord with artists and social commentators. We see this image constantly in art and editorial cartoons; we even hear about it in Radiohead songs. Playwright and comedian Alan Bennett memorably used the image of a sardine tin as a metaphor for life itself in a mock sermon that parodied the Anglican church’s taste for elaborate metaphorical conceits. (Also see Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Why I Am Not a Painter.”)

So for all of these reasons, I beg you to cast a second look upon the humble sardine. Small it may be, and unpossessing. But even a small fish can change your life, and for the better.

[A warning: Fish of many types are particular interest of mine, being a pesco-veggie-whosie and also having been born and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts. So be on the lookout for more icthyological posts to come. Also be on the lookout for giant squids.]

Meanwhile, what do you think? Do you like sardines? Hate them? Know any good recipes? Do you know any interesting literary allusions to sardines that I forgot? What is your favorite fish? Please comment early and often! Also, here is another blogger who likes sardines, and actually knows things about them.

Posted in fish, food, health, sea life | 6 Comments »