How Are Cows and Purses Related to Sharks?

By Rae Moore - Editor August 17th, 2014 at 10:49 am | Comment

Look back at two shark citizen science projects featured on the SciStarter blog.

Want to learn about and protect sharks? We’ve got you covered!


Broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay

Broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) in False Bay

Sharks often get a bad rap; they’re featured in the media as dangerous killers that prey upon helpless human beings and animals.  Although shark attacks occur, they are rare; and attempts to decrease the shark population to prevent attacks leads the ocean ecosystem down a dangerous path, because sharks are important members of the aquatic food chain.  Through education, observation in their natural habitat, and participation in citizen science projects dedicated to sharks, we can learn about and protect these misunderstood animals.  In that light, we featured two shark citizen science projects last year that deserve another read.

For some strange reason, some ocean animals have bovine names.  For example, there are sea cows (or manatees).  But did you know there are a family of sharks known as cow sharks?  The sevengill shark is one example of a cow shark, and Dr. Ashley Rose Kelly wrote about the Sevengill Shark Tracking Project, which was developed to monitor the rise of these particular cow sharks near San Diego.  You can find her blog post here.

In the aquatic world, a mermaid’s purse is not a fancy accessory; rather, it’s an egg case, or a case that surrounds the fertilized eggs of sharks and other fish.  Dr. Melinda T. Hough featured Shark Trust, a project that identifies and catalogs mermaid’s purses with the intention of protecting marine nurseries.  Read about the project here.

Image: Derekkeats, Wikimedia Commons.

About the Authors:

Dr. Ashley Rose Kelly is Assistant Professor of Communication,Networks, and Innovation at Purdue University. Kelly’s work is in the areas of science studies and science communication. You can find Ashley on Twitter as @ashleyrkelly

Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator dedicated to sharing the inspiring stories of life science and helping the general public explore their world. She holds a PhD from the University of Edinburgh for research into how antibiotics kill bacteria, was a policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences, and is a published photographer. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science. Not content to stay in one place for very long, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, plotting her next epic adventure, or training for the next half marathon.

Rae Moore is the Managing Editor of the SciStarter and PLOS blogs. She studied Bioinorganic Chemistry as a graduate student at McGill University, and is currently the Undergraduate Chemistry Lab Coordinator at Harvard University.

Big Fish, Dainty Meals: Observing Shark Behavior with the New England Basking Shark Project

By Alex Reis August 16th, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Comment

Connect with others and learn about basking sharks with the New England Basking Shark project.

Want to learn about and protect sharks?  We’ve got you covered!

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) off the Atlantic coast

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) off the Atlantic coast

With abundant jellyfish and other gelatinous critters, the New England area is always a trendy place for a basking shark to go for a meal after a long day travelling. This is in fact a popular restaurant, not just with sharks but with many other species as well. “The whales, the tuna, the sharks, everybody comes up here to eat”,  jokes Carol “Krill” Carson, President of the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA), a non-profit organization based in Massachusetts.

As such a great opportunity to find a large number of basking sharks and ocean sunfish could not be missed, in 2005 Carson created a network of beachcombers and boat enthusiasts to spot these magnificent fish whenever they decided to come to the surface; and The New England Basking Shark (NEBShark) and Ocean Sunfish Project was born. “We see basking sharks and ocean sunfish in our whale watching trips and people get very excited, so I thought it would be really nice to have people involved in a community sighting network, where they could participate by reporting their sightings of these deep sea fish,” says Carson. “The more eyes you have looking, the better your chances of finding them.”

As the NECWA is not a research organization, the main purpose for this sighting network is to get people connected with the unique wildlife in the area. Secondary to that – like a cherry on top of the cake – is the opportunity to gather data to better understand these big fish and then use that knowledge to help protect them.
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Exploring a Culture of Health: Reimagining Medical and Health Education

By Carolyn Graybeal August 13th, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Comment 1

How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

How can we reimagine online health learning? (Image Credit: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

This post is part of Exploring a Culture of Health, a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.  

What we know about health and medicine is ever changing and improving. So should the way we teach and learn about it.

For several years now, Khan Academy has been reimagining teaching and improving access to education. As part of their mission to provide “a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere”, they develop free online video lessons to help students, teachers, and parents tackle subjects ranging from algebra to art history to computing. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), they are now turning their attention to medical and health education.

“We need more effective ways to spread knowledge about health and medicine and online tools seem to have a lot of potential in this respect,” explains Michael Painter, senior program officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “With Khan Academy’s focus on disrupting traditional approaches to education and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s interest in disrupting traditional notions of health and medicine it seemed like a good match.”

There is an enormous quantity of potential health and medical content that can be taught. Khan and RWJF decided to focus on developing student preparation resources for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the exam prospective students must take for admission into medical school.

Recognizing that many individuals are passionate about education, Khan Academy hosted a content competition to find talent. Khan Academy was looking for submissions, which were informative, engaging, and well-constructed. Many winners were residents and young medical faculty. They were treated to a video ‘boot camp’ to hone their video making skills before they were let loose to create their instructional videos. A second competition was completed this past spring to refresh the first cohort of video makers. To make sure the content is accurate, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is overseeing a review of the content before it is posted online.

These videos are part of Khan’s Health and Medicine catalogue. The section has a growing library of content covering a range of topics including cardiovascular diseases, the musculoskeletal system, and cognition. It also has information about general health and fitness and as well as a section on understanding lab test results. Within each topic module there are several videos that sequentially guide the viewer through the relevant material. Some modules contain a comprehension quiz. While the content is geared towards healthcare trainees and practitioners, all are relevant and viewable for the general public.

“This is a platform to provide free, high-quality resources in the area of health and medicine. We want to offer a deep learning experience that is accessible to anyone, anywhere.  As such, we try to avoid using jargon and don’t always assume a pre-existing base of medical knowledge.  For instance, our video on anemia breaks down the complexities of oxygen delivery in the body by drawing an analogy, and using clear language appropriate for anyone interested in learning about the disease,” says Rishi Desai, MD, MPH the Khan Academy medical partnership program lead.

Building on its work with the MCAT, Khan Academy is in the process of generating content in collaboration with the Association of American Colleges of Nursing and the Jonas Center to offer preparation materials for the NCLEX-RN, the registered nurses licensing exam.

“We believe efforts such as these will make significant improvements in the education of health care providers and ultimately in the care they deliver to patients,” says Painter.

What ways can you think of to improve health and medical information? Leave a comment below.


What to expand your science knowledge? Check out these free online science learning resources.

VisionLearning is an online resource for undergraduate level science education. Lessons are organized in concise and engaging modules interspersed with comprehension check points and animations to keep students engaged. Material is created by professional scientists and educators. In addition the site provides resources for helping educators create a lesson plans. Read a more detailed description here.

The National Science Digital Library This site provides a collection of free resources and tools which support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.  Resources include activities, lesson plans, websites rosters, simulations, or other materials to facilitate STEM education.

Citizen Science Academy A tool for educators interested in incorporating citizen science projects in their curriculum. Courses and tutorials help guide educators through the process. There are also opportunities for continuing education credits.

Super Moon, Super Meteor Showers, Super Citizen Science

By Ian Vorster August 9th, 2014 at 4:08 am | Comment

On Sunday August 10, join Slooh and citizen scientists as they observe the Super Moon.

Don’t miss a live interview (Sunday at 7:30 ET) with SciStarter’s founder Darlene Cavalier on Slooh, the telescope and astronomy website devoted to stars and the cosmos.


Credit NASA


There is a tendency to prefix anything dramatic, unusual or super with…well, the prefix ‘super,’ which is partly why the Moon is called super twice more this year. Let me explain.  When a new Moon coincides with the closest approach the Moon has on its elliptical path to the Earth (because of this the Moon’s orbit typically varies between about 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth), it actually appears from 7 to 30 percent larger and brighter, especially when it’s close to the horizon. That happens on the 10th of August—tomorrow—and again on the 9th of September 2014.  Slooh will be broadcasting live coverage of the event.

The term ‘super moon’ is not used in professional astronomical circles, but rather has its roots in modern astrology—the high tides created at this time are believed by some to cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and it has actually been blamed for sinking the Titanic (although there has not been any evidence to support this), and for the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

What’s so super about the Moon this weekend? The perigee (that’s what astronomers call it) will coincide with meteor showers. Named Perseid, it is possible to see as many as 100 shooting stars every hour; probably peaking between August 10 and August 13, with the best time to view the shower at about 2 am.

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Citizen Science, Shark Week Edition

By Rae Moore - Editor August 8th, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Comment

It’s Shark Week for Citizen Scientists!

It’s that time of year again. (Cue Jaws theme song.) Discovery Channel’s Shark Week starts on August 10th! But rather than fear these beautiful creatures, participate in projects to help advance research about sharks!

Hey! If you’re involved in more than one citizen science project, we’d like to hear from you. Email to find out why (we’ve got a free t-shirt for you!).


Wildbook for Whale Sharks
Share your photographs of whale sharks and Wildbook’s pattern recognition software will distinguish between individual sharks by identifying skin patterns behind the gills of each shark! The photos you share will be used in mark-recapture studies to help with the global conservation of this threatened species.Get started!


Sevengill Shark Sightings, San Diego
If you spot a Sevengill Shark while on a dive, be sure to snap a photo or record video. Images can be uploaded to a pattern recognition program to track Sevengill sharks! Get started!


New England Basking Shark Project
The New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance invites boaters, fishermen, and divers to report their sightings and send in their photos of basking sharks. Help monitor the local population and migration patterns.  Get started!


Shark Trust: Great Eggcase Hunt
Prefer a casual stroll on the beach? Report findings of shark egg cases (“mermaid’s purses”) washed up on the beach. An eggcase contains one embryo which will develop over several months into a miniature shark, skate or ray. Once empty, the eggcases often wash ashore, indicating the location of nurseries, which provides species information on abundance and distribution!  Get started!

From our partners:

Check out “Exploring a Culture of Health,” a citizen science series brought to you by Discover Magazine, SciStarter and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serving as an ally to help Americans work together to build a national Culture of Health that enables everyone to lead healthier lives now and for generations to come.