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SBnature Blog

May 23
3:45 PM /

Science Pub: Exploring the Deep Sea Aboard the E/V Nautilus

The Stubby Squid: Does it have a face only a mother could love, or the face that launched a thousand ships? However its gaze may strike you personally, it launched at least one ship, namely, the E/V (exploration vessel) Nautilus. The Nautilus belongs to the Ocean Exploration Trust, and it’s the ship that brought the world this astounding face from the depths…and much more. If you’ve been living your life somewhere even more remote than the Mariana Trench, and you’ve never seen the Stubby Squid or heard of the Ocean Exploration Trust, you’ve still probably heard of its founder, Dr. Bob Ballard. He discovered the Titanic, remember? What’s more, he’s a UCSB alumnus, and thanks to him, our region is treated to recurring brushes with greatness vis-à-vis the deep sea.

Stubby Squid

The congenitally surprised-looking Stubby Squid, which is more like a cuttlefish than a squid, really, though cuttlefish, in turn, are more cuddly than fishy. Call it by its proper name: Rossia pacifica. Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust

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May 08
10:45 AM /

Museum Mysteries: The Disembodied Albatross

Why does Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology have a severed albatross head in its collection? That wasn’t one of our sleuth’s original research questions, but he answered it all the same. SBMNH Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Paul Collins encountered the surreal specimen while researching his book-in-development on the birds of the Channel Islands. It’s not the only mystery he’s solved over the course of that research, but it may be one of the strangest.

For the past forty years, Collins has compiled information about Channel Islands birds from specimens and field notes at institutions around the world. His sources stretch from 1843 to the present day, and include records of nearly 10,000 museum specimens and more than 150,000 observations of birds on the eight islands. The last book to cover the birds of all the islands was a slim volume published in 1917, so Collins’s book will fill a big gap in the field. Physically, the observation records fill a stack of binders 24 inches tall. In bird terms, that’s about the height of a Great Egret, those tall white birds you see in the wetlands around UCSB and the fallow fields of Goleta.

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April 27
5:00 PM /

Drought, Fire, and Flood: Climate Change and Our New Normal

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume.”
–Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

“Drought, Fire, and Flood: Climate Change and Our New Normal,” the community conversation held April 25 at the Granada Theatre (the space generously shared by the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts), educated and motivated those who could devote their Wednesday evening to getting informed about local climate resilience. If you missed the event, read on for detailed coverage.

This event had its roots in the long drought and increasingly severe fires that scourged our state in recent years, which set the stage for devastating local flooding and debris flows in January. Following the death and destruction in Montecito, members of the SBMNH Board of Trustees suggested that the Museum host an event addressing the natural disasters. Museum President and CEO Luke Swetland reached out to Karl Hutterer, the Museum’s Director Emeritus, and Community Environmental Council (CEC) CEO/Executive Director Sigrid Wright. The CEC, a “think-and-do-tank,” has spent approximately the last half-century promoting solutions to environmental problems in the Santa Barbara area. In the last decade, it has specifically focused on promoting regional solutions to the challenges posed by climate change.

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April 11
12:00 PM /

Social Science: Sharing Specimens, Data and Beers in Invertebrate Zoology

As a young visitor to the Museum, I never really looked behind the taxidermy. I never imagined that there were scientists behind the scenes, managing collections and pursuing their own research. It certainly never occurred to me that collections housed here in Santa Barbara would draw researchers from other institutions worldwide. This reflected not only my lack of knowledge about the Museum, but something I didn’t yet understand about science: that it’s conducted not by lone wolves, but by pack animals.

This might sound surprising, in light of what we all usually picture when we imagine a scientist. Even if we’re lucky enough to know some real scientists, we typically visualize someone whose expertise exceeds their social skills, someone who’d rather spend Friday nights alone in a lab than having a beer with friends. Shows like The Big Bang Theory derive their humor from this entrenched stereotype. What the stereotype gets right is the fact that scientists are typically passionate about what they do, and most of the time they’d rather be doing it than anything else. They’re in it for love, and not for the money, which you can confirm by asking any researcher what they earn.

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