Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Evolution of sea snakes takes twists and turns

I’ve always felt fortunate that residents of Western Washington need not worry about encountering a deadly snake while hiking in our home territory. The same goes for divers and sea snakes — which are even more venomous than terrestrial snakes. The cold waters of Washington and Oregon tend to keep the sea snakes away.

The same used to be said for California, where sea snake sightings were once extremely rare. That has been changing, however, the past few years — especially during years when higher ocean temperatures encourage tropical creatures to make their way north. Is it just a matter of time before Washington scuba divers begin to report the presence of sea snakes?

A little more than a year ago, a highly venomous yellow-bellied sea snake was seen slithering on the sand in Newport Beach south of Los Angeles. It was the third report of the species since 2015, according to an article in the LA Times.

“Oceans are warming and the species that respond to that change will be those that are the most mobile,” said Greg Pauly, a snake expert quoted in the story by Louis Sahagun. “So the big question now is this: Are sea snakes swimming off the coast of Southern California the new normal?”

If you peruse the Internet for stories and videos about sea snakes, you will quickly learn that sea snakes are far more venomous than their land-based counterparts. You will see statistics such as this from Kidzone: “The most poisonous one is the beaked sea snake. Just 3 drops of venom can kill about 8 people!”

On the positive side, sea snakes rarely bite humans. And, when they do, they don’t deliver a lot of venom.

Folks working on fishing vessels in many tropical locations encounter sea snakes in their nets on a regular basis. Fishermen carefully remove the snakes and set them free. Unfortunately, a 23-year-old British man was killed last fall on an Australian prawn trawler when he was bitten while trying to remove a snake from a net. It was the first death of its kind in Australia since 1935, according to a researcher quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Steve Fisher, an underwater photographer who lives in Bremerton, told me about a few encounters he had with sea snakes while diving near Palau Manuk — also called “Snake Island” — in Indonesia last fall. It’s a place known for hundreds of green sea snakes.

The snakes tend to congregate around volcanic vents where the water is warm, Steve said. He likes to go night diving to capture images of exotic sea creatures in the glare of his lights. But the diving guides leading the dive trips in Indonesia made it abundantly clear that they would not immerse themselves during congregations of sea snakes after dark.

During daylight hours, Steve spotted as many as three snakes at one time swirling around together, but he never got to see the legendary “balls” of hundreds of snakes intertwined together at one time.

Steve Fisher of Bremerton took this photo of a green sea snake last fall while diving near Palau Manuk — also called “Snake Island” — in Indonesia. The diver in the foreground is a local guide. (Click to enlarge)
Photo: Steve Fisher

Steve said he counts on relatively slow reactions from the sea snakes and other potentially dangerous creatures that he encounters on his dives. That way he can capture his best photos of sea life.

“I’m kind of a fool when it comes to wildlife,” he told me. “When they are laying on the bottom and resting, I will reach over and touch them, causing them to look at me.” That’s when he gets the shot.

I became interested in this subject of sea snakes a few weeks ago after reading a new research paper about how the snakes keep themselves hydrated. Sea snakes are evolved from land snakes, which means their blood is based on freshwater and they breathe through lungs, not gills.

Sea snakes are seen swimming to the surface to take in a breath of air, although some apparently are able to absorb some oxygen from the water through their skin. But if they never return to land, how do they get enough freshwater to keep their bodies functioning?

Sea snakes have long been known to have salt glands to help excrete excess salt in their blood, and some scientists speculated that the snakes could be drinking seawater. But previous studies concluded that the salt glands are too small to excrete all the salt in the water needed for proper hydration.

The answer to the question of how the snakes get enough freshwater apparently is that they drink rainwater from the sky. Harvey Lilliwhite, a biology professor at the University of Florida, was studying yellow-bellied sea snakes in Costa Rica with his colleagues when the six-month dry season suddenly ended with a deluge of rain.

The researchers had already captured some snakes before the rain fell, and they captured others afterward — 99 snakes in all. Each time they brought snakes into the lab, they offered them a drink of freshwater. About 80 percent of snakes that were captured before the rains would take a drink, but that percentage declined as the rains continued. Only about 13 percent wanted a drink when captured eight days after the rains started.

The research paper was published in the journal Plos One. By the way, the snakes were released after the experiment.

So far, Lillywhite has not observed the snakes drinking water in the wild, but the presumed source of supply is the thin layer of freshwater that temporarily becomes layered over the heavier seawater when it rains. With wave action, the freshwater tends to accumulate in discrete locations, called lenses.

How do the snakes find these lenses of freshwater? How thick do the lenses need to be for the snakes to drink? Do lots of snakes suddenly come to the surface all at once when it rains? And what does the future hold for these specialized creatures, as climate change extends the periods between rainfall events? These answers must come later.

“How these animals locate and harvest precipitation is important in view of the recent declines and extinctions of some species of sea snakes,” Lilliwhite said in a University of Florida publication. “The question remains: How will climate change and its effects on precipitation impact the sea snakes?”

Jake Buehler, a writer with National Geographic, provided a nice account of the research with additional perspectives from folks not involved in the study.

Amusing Monday: Orca researcher Jayda Guy finds success in music

Jayda Guy, aka Jayda G, a native of British Columbia, has embraced her dual passions for science and music like few other people in the world today. She has somehow been able to link her experiences as a killer whale researcher to a creative mindset as a musical DJ, singer, songwriter and producer, with a debut album coming out this month.

The new album, “Significant Changes,” was inspired in part by the orcas and the natural wonders of the Salish Sea, where she conducted her studies. The album came together last year, not long after she completed her master’s degree in resource management from Simon Fraser University. Her research focused on the effects of toxic chemicals on our southern resident killer whales.

“I’m trying to bring my two worlds together to bridge the communication gap (and) engage people in a new way,” she told Andy Malt, editor of Complete Music Update. “I don’t know if people in the electronic music world will want to talk about the environment, but I think I should try! I think it’s our duty to use a platform like this in a positive way; that’s our social responsibility.”

As Andy Malt points out, the album title, “Significant Changes,” was the most-used phrase in her 224-page master’s thesis titled “A Risk Analysis of Legacy Pollutants: PCBs, PBDEs and New Emerging Pollutants in Salish Sea Killer Whales” (PDF 65.1 mb).

One song on the new album, called “Orca’s Reprise,” includes the unmistakable calls of the killer whales. Another song, “Misty Knows What’s Up,” samples the voice of Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Conservation Foundation, a key figure in a lawsuit to protect the whales from environmental damage. The album is available for preorder or streaming from alternative sources. Some of Jayda’s music can be heard on her Soundcloud station, including “Sound of Fuca” (below).

In a 2017 interview with Andrew Ryce of the music magazine Resident Advisor, Guy said she thought her work as a DJ was going to be a mere hobby as she prepared to become an environmental researcher or perhaps a college professor. But her life has taken a new turn.

Jayda grew up Grand Forks, B.C., about 2.5 hours north of Spokane. Her love of music led her to learn the art of being a DJ and playing others’ songs. Over the past few years, she has found increasing success, spending much of her time playing clubs and music festivals in Europe.

“That’s the thing about Guy’s sets,” according to Ryce. “They’re hard to dislike. She connects soulfulness and melody across genres, and she’s willing to play the classics that other DJs shy away from.”

Jayda expanded into producing; she created a new music label; and she started writing her own music. Yet nothing made her as nervous as presenting her research findings to a panel of other scientists, she told Max Mertens of Motherboard magazine for an article published in February.

“Everyone in my lab couldn’t believe it,” she was quoted as saying. “They were like, ‘You play in front of hundreds and thousands of people all the time; why would you be nervous to defend your thesis in front of a panel of a few people?’ I was so nervous.”

Guy expresses a passion for discovery — the goal of science — as well as a passion for nature and the mysterious interactions among living things, which is something everyone can appreciate if they take the time.

“Academia can be so daunting and intimidating,” she said in the Motherboard interview. “I want to take that knottiness and intimidation out, so that people can really feel like they understand something, and that they can ask the questions they want to ask, without feeling judged or silly for asking those questions.”

Guy recently launched a London-based series of discussions she calls “JMG Talks,” in which she converses with young researchers about their lives as well as their scientific investigations. The first two talks were held last month, one with Lily Zeng, a young scientist who blends anthropology and ecology in Southwest China, and the other with Lindsay Veazey, an oceanographic modeler studying the impact of human development on the Hawaiian Coast.

Jayda was recently invited to join BBC’s Radio 1 Residency program. Her hour-long musical show was released today for listening over the next month.

Jayda’s schedule into next fall is so full of appearances and other activities that I suspect she will come to look forward to some extra time in the natural world, perhaps closer to home.

Besides the interesting articles mentioned in this blog, one can read about Jayda on her Facebook page.

Amusing Monday: Inspiration from underwater photos

More than 5,000 underwater photographs, taken by photographers from 65 countries, were submitted for judging in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

“Gentle Giants” ©François Baelen/UPY2019

The contest, based in Great Britain, was started in 1965 and celebrates the art and technology of capturing images under water — from the depths of the ocean to “split shots” at the surface, from open waters to enclosed estuaries, from lakes to even swimming pools.

I first reported on this contest in Watching Our Water Ways last year and received such a positive response from readers that I decided to make it an annual feature of this blog. The 125 winning entries are shown in an online Gallery of the 2019 winners. A series of videos provides insight from the photographers telling the stories that surround their winning entries.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite photos (above and below), which can be enlarged by clicking on the images. One of the best way of viewing all the winning entries is to download the UPY 2019 Yearbook.

“Gentle Giants” — Wide Angle category

François Baelen of Reunion Island, winner of the Wide Angle category, captured an intriguing image (top photo) of humpback whales near his home in the Indian Ocean.

“At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimeters away from her tail,” François wrote. “I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn’t need to ask the playful calf; he was very curious. From down there, the scene looked unreal, and I’m glad that this photograph has captured this moment. Humpback whales are amazing and peaceful animals, and I can’t believe they are still being hunted by mankind today.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “The first moment I viewed this image I knew it would be a strong contender. For me, it’s the symmetry of the humpback and the balance between the diver and calf. Everything about it is in perfect alignment. The shape of the tail in relation to the four corners of the frame, not to mention the position of the free diver and calf. Superb imagery at its very best. Many congratulations François.”

“Big Guns” — Wrecks category

Rene B. Andersen of Denmark, winner of the Wrecks category, carefully framed this picture of the turret dislodged from the HMS Audacious, a battleship sunk by a mine off the coast of Ireland in 1914. He credited a black-and-white photo by British photographer Leigh Bishop as his inspiration.

“Big Guns” ©Rene B. Andersen/UPY2019

“I used a tripod and three Big Blue lights to illuminate the turret with the majestic 13.5” guns and myself as the model,” he said. “There was a small current, so it wasn’t easy to lay still during this long exposure shot. It took some time before achieving it, and at 64 meters (deep) the clock is ticking fast. That is the challenge with deep-wreck photography. Using the tripod, with me as a model, there was a risk that something would go wrong as I am far from the camera so I had to cross my fingers every single shot.”

Note from Judge Peter Rowlands: “So simple yet so powerful; the additional lighting of the turret and the main diver perfectly positioned. This was a very strong category this year with a deserved winner, and it’s refreshing to read the acknowledgement to Leigh Bishop’s pioneering work.”

“Caretta caretta turtle” — Marine Conservation category

Eduardo Acevedo of Spain, named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year, was able to show the problem of plastic pollution in this shot of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), a species that spends most of its life in the open ocean.

“Caretta caretta turtle” ©Eduardo Acevedo/UPY2019

“They come to the Canary Island (Spain) after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches,” Eduardo said. “In this trip of many years, they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case, it got trapped in a net, and it was practically impossible to escape from it. But this day it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her.”

Note from judge Alex Mustard: The problems of plastic pollution and ghost fishing are both illustrated by this struggling loggerhead turtle. I am happy to learn this individual was lucky enough to survive this deathtrap thanks to the photographer.”

“Fly High and Smile” — Portrait category

Nicholas Samaras of Greece, winner of the Portrait category, shot this picture of a ray while on a project involving a special seahorse colony near Stratoni in Northern Greece.

“Fly High and Smile” ©Nicholas Samaras/UPY2019

“On my third and last visit, I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses before the sunset using natural light,” he said. “Just at the time of the big finale, a small ray came into the scene! I managed to swim with him and place my camera underneath to capture a portrait of his belly with the mouth and nose looking like a smiling happy angel’s face, with the sun beams on the background softening the color to emerald.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “Superb impact from the very first moment it was presented. Perfect composition within the image frame and the understated colors. To top it off, the author’s comments above say it all… a Smiling Happy Angel’s Face. One of my favorites from the entire competition.”

“Hairy in the Sunrise” — Compact category

Enrico Somogyi of Germany took this split double-exposure image by waking up for the sunrise to get a shot of the fishing boat near Ambon, Indonesia.

“Hairy in the Sunrise” ©Enrico Somogyi /UPY2019

“This was the first picture,” he said. “The second picture with the Hairy Frogfish I take on Laha 1. Here I was using a Inon S2000 with a Snoot for the Hairy. For the blue backlighting I used a colored Fiberoptic Snoot on a Inon Z240. To get the two pictures together, I was using the double-exposure setting in the camera.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “This image was a very popular choice between the panel. Ideal for a split rendition. What makes this a winner for me, not withstanding the double exposure, is the sympathetic balance of light and color connected between the top half and bottom of the image frame.”

About the judges: Alex Mustard (2019 Chair), Peter Rowlands and Martin Edge.

Amusing Monday: Colbert has fun with Trump’s climate views

I’m not a regular viewer of Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show,” so I wasn’t aware of how much he talks about climate change in his monologues and intros until I began reviewing video clips of the show.

Colbert especially likes to joke about the Trump administration’s management of climate change — or should I say the administration’s apparent desire for the subject to just go away.

Last week, Colbert lambasted the appointment of William Happer to head a committee formed to determine whether climate change poses a threat to national security. Happer is a physicist who has no formal training in climate science, although he served as director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science under the George HW Bush administration.

Happer’s claim to fame has been his assertion that global warming is largely a natural phenomenon and that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is really a good thing.

“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” he told CNBC in 2014, a comment that did not go unnoticed by Colbert.

If Happer didn’t seem so serious about all this, he might have a career as a comedian, considering his colorful use of language. Bess Levin of Vanity Fair rounded up several of his other comments, including this quote from Climate Depot: “If plants could vote, they would vote for coal.”

If you’d like to dig deeply into Happer’s beliefs, check out the article he wrote called “The Truth about greenhouse gases” in “First Things” along with a rebuttal in Climate Science & Policy Watch by Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute.

Sorry, I’m getting off the track. My intention here in this “Amusing Monday” piece is to share some of the many Colbert clips about climate change. Besides the videos on this page, I’ve embedded links to other videos in the text below. Check out this cartoon intro that describes Trump’s climate change committee as a hapless group of superheroes.

With all the hubbub surrounding the Green New Deal, Colbert presents another cartoon showing Kermit the Frog singing the song, “It’s not easy being green” with words relevant to the current topic (second video on this page).

Rather than shy away from science issues, Colbert may take time to explain things in a somewhat accurate way before going off on funny tangents. Other times, he just makes fun of what Trump himself says about climate and weather, as in the third video above.

When a draft of the government report was leaked to the press in 2017, Colbert wondered in a three-minute monologue whether secret weather reports would be next, especially in light of a directive from the Department of Agriculture calling on its employees to stop using the term “climate change.”

In a cartoon featuring Frosty the Snowman, Frosty says he stands with President Trump when it comes to climate and weather. “Relax Snowflake,” Frosty tells a little girl, “you’re just brainwashed by the liberal media” — and then he melts away.

During the recent cold snap in the Midwest, Colbert effuses about Trump’s recent tweet: “What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you!” If Trump actually believed in climate change, his comment might have been funny at one time. This discussion took up the first two minutes and 20 seconds of Colbert’s monologue.

When the president denied being a climate denier in an interview with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl, Colbert took him to task during the first 50 seconds of a monologue from October.

Back when the president announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, designed to reduce the worldwide production of greenhouse gases, Colbert produced a satiric video (above) called “Planet Earth 2025” in which he portrays the voice of David Attenborough.

In the last video on this page (starting at 2 minutes), Colbert ridicules Trump for his ambivalence about climate change and his claim of having a “natural instinct for science.”

Amusing Monday: NOAA’s top photos, videos and stories

A photograph of a tiny orange octopus was the most popular image last year among all the photographs posted to Instagram by NOAA Fisheries, the agency formally called the National Marine Fisheries Service. More than 2,000 people “liked” the picture and many more viewed it from among more than 150 top photographs posted last year by NOAA Fisheries’ Communications shop on its Instagram page.

A baby octopus found on an autonomous reef monitoring structure. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: James Morioka/NOAA

The octopus photo was taken during a NOAA expedition to assess the health of coral reefs in the Pacific Remote Islands, which had undergone a massive die-off in 2016 and 2017 caused by excessive warm water. The tiny octopus was discovered on an “autonomous reef monitoring structure” used to measure the recovery of ocean ecosystems. For details about the voyage, see NOAA’s story “Research Expedition to Assess Coral Reef Conditions and Recovery from Mass Bleaching.”

Another popular NOAA photo from last year was a picture of a large number of green sea turtles basking along the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

Green sea turtles bask on a beach in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: Marylou Staman/NOAA

Starting in 1973, NOAA biologists have traveled to these remote islands to monitor nesting activity among the turtles. They work day and night, counting and marking turtles with unique numbers for identity. Citizens who spot numbered turtles are asked to report them. For more details, check out the story “Honu Count 2018: Help us find numbered sea turtles in Hawaii.”

A video that tells a story of sea turtles also came out among the most popular videos produced by NOAA last year. The story of how their populations are changing is fascinating, and turtles always get attention from readers and viewers, according to NOAA officials.

“One of the really interesting things about sea turtles is their sex is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs, with cooler temperatures producing more males and warmer temperatures producing more females,” says Michael Jensen, a marine biologist with Ocean Associates.

Jensen, working on a turtle study with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, is the primary voice on the video, in which he talks about how warmer waters in portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are producing about 99 percent female turtles. These findings are based on new genetic studies that track where the turtles are born.

“It’s important to remember that they’ve been around for a hundred million years,” Jensen said. “They’ve outlasted the dinosaurs. They’ve adapted to a changing climate through that whole time. However, the climate is changing faster now than it has ever. The question we are all asking now is: Will they be able to adapt, and will they be able to adapt fast enough. We certainly hope so.”

Humpback whale // Photo: NOAA

One of NOAA’s top stories of last year, as always, was a focus on whales. Communication folks put together some interesting facts for Whale Week, including this one: “Male humpback whales found in U.S. waters sing complex songs in winter breeding areas … that can last up to 20 minutes and be heard miles away.” OK, maybe most of us already knew that, but for each of the 10 whales mentioned, you will find links to a lot more details, such as with humpbacks.

If you are interested in Puget Sound, I would point you toward the “marine mammal” section of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Blue shark // Photo: Mark Conlin/NOAA

NOAA’s number-one story of 2018 was one put together for Shark Week: “12 shark facts that may surprise you.” Here’s a fact that may not be as obvious as it seems:

“Blue sharks are really blue. The blue shark displays a brilliant blue color on the upper portion of its body and is normally snowy white beneath. The mako and porbeagle sharks also exhibit a blue coloration, but it is not nearly as brilliant as that of a blue shark. In life, most sharks are brown, olive, or grayish.”

Another popular “story,” which is actually listed as 16 separate stories, involves issues of sustainable seafood, with mention of National Seafood Month in October. Stories address sustainable labeling, consumer preferences, cuts of fish, fishermen perspectives, species recovery, aquaculture, economics, climate change and descriptions of a variety of individual fish species.

The list of NOAA Fisheries’ top stories, photos and videos can be found on the agency’s news website.

Amusing Monday: Snow swimming; so what’s holding you back?

If deep snow has fallen around your house, you might as well throw caution to the wind and go swimming. Put on your swimming suit, dive into a snow drift and swim hard — freestyle, backstroke or even butterfly. More than a few crazy people have done it.

With all the fresh snow we’ve had the past few days in the Puget Sound region, I thought I could find some fresh videos of the so-called snow swimming challenge. My search came up empty, but if anyone knows of any new videos — or if you make a new one yourself — feel free to share the link.

The first video on this page, posted Jan. 19, shows the basics of the sport in its simplest form. Nicole, who posted the video, is a competitive high school swimmer in Ohio, as one can see from her other videos.

One of the best compilation videos was put together two years ago and posted by Swirly Pancake Films. That’s the second video. Some of these video clips were captured several years ago, but I think they’re still amusing.

The third video, posted in January, shows Andri Ragetti, a Swiss freestyle skier who is shown attacking the snow in an entirely new way. Ragetti accomplished an “epic 2018 campaign,” landing on the podium in six out of six World Cup competitions, according to his biography for the X Games. He was the first skier ever to land back-to-back triples in a slopestyle competition (Aspen 2016) and the first to land a quad cork 1800 (South Tyrol, Italy, 2017).

The last video is a vlog by Sierra, who begins the video with a commitment to go for a swim in the snow. Her discussion is amusing, as she spends most of the next three minutes talking herself into it and then later regretting it.

“You may be wondering, what made you want to jump in a cold, really cold, disgusting cold pile of snow?” she ponders. “I don’t know what to tell you. I just looked out the window, and it’s like, that’s it; I’m gonna make the jump; I’m gonna do it.”

The question is, did she ever really swim in the snow, as the video title suggests?

Amusing Monday: Ads feature mermaids, fountains and Bublé

Someday, on one of these Super Bowl Sundays, I won’t be able to find any funny commercials with a connection to water to fit the theme of this blog. But that was not the case this year. So, as I have in past years, I am sharing some commercials suitable for this “Amusing Monday” weekly feature.

I guess I should mention that many critics were not thrilled with this year’s Super Bowl ads. It has become a pastime for business and media writers to review the commercials, knowing that some people tune in to the game mainly for the ads. This year, critics could not agree whether the game or the commercials were more lackluster.

Part of the problem, said Eric Deggans of NPR, is that advertisers were trying too hard not to offend.

“That left viewers with a lot of spots centered on emotional tributes to first responders and soldiers, artificial intelligence and robots acting out and awkward celebrity cameos,” he noted. “One example: Charlie Sheen, reading a newspaper as Mr. Peanut speeds by in a car shaped like a peanut, looking up to say, ‘and people think I’m nuts.’ Really.”

In all, 54 advertisers spent about $5.25 million for each 30 seconds of screen time, and together they produced a total of 93 commercials. One can review them all by going to iSpot.com, which lists them by the quarter of the game in which they were shown.

Amazon

One of the highest-rated commercials in Sunday’s game was an Amazon spoof about new products being linked up to Alexa, which allows voice commands to get things done. Not everything should be controlled by voice, as explained in the ad, which you can see in the first video on this page. For example, when you talk to Alexa in your hot tub, you might get an out-of-control fountain, like the one at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The Amazon commercial also shows another failed product: a dog collar that can turn a dog’s bark into an order for dog food. Harrison Ford appears unamused as he demands that his dog cancel the order.

Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer

The most obvious water-related commercial was a pair of mermaids, Bonnie and Vivian, promoting Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, a new name for a recently reformulated Anheuser-Busch InBev product. According to E.S. Schultz of Ad Age magazine, the brewer wanted to name it bon vivant, a French term meaning “one who lives well,” but the two women’s names fit right in.

The ad, shown in the second video player, was crafted to avoid sexual innuendo, often associated with mermaids, according to Chelsea Phillips, vice president for “beyond beer” brands at AB InBev.

“It has two females in a founder position and presented in a different way than we have ever seen alcohol present females characters before,” Phillips was quoted as saying. “The strength of these women is very important to me. As a female VP, I want to see more of that representation in this space, but I didn’t want it to be a trope. I just wanted it to feel natural … versus more of an overt statement.”

Initially, I missed the “Shark Tank” TV show reference, as the two mermaids pitch their products to some animated sharks.

Stella Artois

Sarah Jessica Parker revives her role as Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” while Jeff Bridges returns to the same bar as The Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” The shocker comes when Carrie orders a Stella Artois beer instead of her usual Cosmopolitan, and then The Dude follows by eschewing his regular White Russian for a beer.

Some critics were mortified that two iconic characters would be lowered to this commercial level to sell beer, but others enjoyed the clever revival of these established characters.

As a side note, Stella has participated in the water.org campaign since 2015, helping to provide water access to 1.7 million people in need of clean drinking water.

Michael Bublé or Bubly

Singer Michael Bublé plays along in a 30-second ad for Pepsi’s sparkling water brand Bubly, which just happens to have a similar name to his own. The title of the commercial is “Can I have a bublé?”

The ad is promoting four new flavors — blackberrybubly, cranberrybubly, raspberrybubly and peachbubly, — to add to the eight existing flavors, but you might not know that if you’re not watching closely.

“I might be Canadian, but I’m a big fan of American football,” Bublé says in a press release. “I had a blast doing my very first Super Bowl commercial with bublé – I mean bubly. Because of our similar names, the brand and I share a special bond. I love how the cans are bold, bright and full of personality. They’re perfect for any Super Bowl viewing partés you might be having.”

Washington Post

Aside from the humorous videos, The Washington Post bought time near the end of the game to remind us all of the importance of a free press and the professional journalists who tell everyday stories and sometimes sacrifice everything to bring truth out of the dark corners of the world.

As Tom Hanks says as narrator in the WaPo video, “Knowing keeps us free.”

Again, if you would like to see all the Super Bowl commercials, check out iSpot.com, which lists them by the quarter of the game in which they were shown.

Amusing Monday: Silly children’s songs about creatures in the sea

“Riding on a Lobster Tail” is a live show produced by singer/songwriter/actor Angela Woodhull of Gainesville, Fla. The program, designed to educate children, comes in two versions: a large stage show with singers, dancers and musicians and a one-person storytelling, sing-along show.

The story revolves around a family aboard a cruise ship who learns about a a variety of sea creatures that they encounter. “Queen Angelina,” as Angela is known in her stage life, tells the story while singing about the various animals.

I discovered at least 15 songs written for the show as I searched for music to fit with the “Water Ways” theme of this blog. See the YouTube search page for “Riding on a Lobster Tail.”

I learned that Angela has produced programs for educating children that go far beyond marine creatures to other stories of nature to issues of health and everyday living. In all, she has written more than 300 songs, including down-to-earth songs about getting your ears pierced at the mall and taking care of head lice to wacky songs about populating Mars with potato salad and a kid with two left shoes. Check out Angela’s YouTube channel with about 100 videos.

“I don’t know where these songs come from,” she said in a news release. “I think they are spiritual gifts.”

One evening, a song entered her head without warning and she pulled into the parking lot at a closed shopping center in Forsyth, Mo., to capture the song on paper before it disappeared. A police officer pulled up and demanded to know what she was doing.

After she explained, the cop said, “Well then, let’s hear that song.” And so it was that Angela launched into “The Cow Song” for the very first time, with a chorus of “Moo, moo, moos!” The officer kept his flashlight directed to the singer’s face and never even cracked a smile. Listen to “The Cow Song” for yourself and see if you can figure out how the officer remained unamused.

Angela Woodhull first introduced her comedy music at nursing homes, then moved on to sing-alongs for college students before focusing on children.

“When children dance and laugh,” she said, “they’re more likely to remember the ABC’s of good nutrition, health and fitness – and have fun!”

For information, visit the website “Celebrate Life Arts.” One can contact Angela by email, celebratelifearts@yahoo.com.

Here are songs from the show “Riding on a Lobster Tail.”

Amusing Monday: Researchers untangle the mystery of hagfish slime

“Hundreds of meters deep in the dark of the ocean, a shark glides toward what seems like a meal. It’s kind of ugly, eel-like and not particularly meaty, but still probably food. So the shark strikes.

“This is where the interaction of biology and physics gets mysterious, as the shark finds its dinner interrupted by a cloud of protective slime that appears out of nowhere around an otherwise placid hagfish.”

I don’t usually begin my “Amusing Monday” blog posts with a quote from a news release, but writer Chris Barncard has described precisely what leads up to an encounter between a fish predator and the mysterious hagfish. Biting a hagfish sends a shudder of revulsion through an enemy trying to eat it. The news release, found on the website of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, describes the research that has led to a mathematical description of an attack by hagfish slime.

“In the blink of an eye (or the flash of attacking tail and teeth), the hagfish can produce many times its own body’s volume in slime,” writes Chris Barncard. “The goop is so thick and fibrous, predators have little choice but to spit out the hagfish and try to clear their mouths.”

Jean-Luc Thiffeault, a UW-Madison math professor, has been working to mathematically model the hagfish response, which can occur in half a second.

“The mouth of the shark is immediately chock full of this gel,” he said. “In fact, it often kills them, because it clogs their gills.”

I’ve pulled together some amusing videos of hagfish to show this strange fish in action. The video at the bottom of the page was offered by the researchers to show how the slime is able to expand so suddenly. As usual, go full-screen for the best view.

When the hagfish is attacked, gel is ejected from glands in its skin. The gel consists of seawater-trapping threads that are coiled up into “skeins” each having a diameter about twice the width of a human hair. Each tiny skein is coiled so tightly that it can release up to six inches of thread.

Previous researchers found that it took several hours for the skeins to unwind if they were placed in still water, whereas stirring the water speeded up the process.

Study collaborators Randy Ewoldt, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Illinois, and his graduate student Gaurav Chaudhary studied the process under a microscope and worked with Thiffeault to describe the fluid dynamics.

“Our model hinges on an idea of a small piece that’s initially dangling out, and then a piece that’s being pulled away,” Thiffeault was quoted as saying. “Think of it as a roll of tape. To start pulling tape from a new roll, you may have to hunt for the end and pick it loose with your fingernail. But if there’s already a free end, it’s easy to catch it with something and get going….

“The main conclusion of our model is we think the mechanism relies on the threads getting caught on something else — other threads, all the surfaces on the inside of a predator’s mouth, pretty much anything — and it’s from there it can really be explosive.”

Improving the hydrodynamics of the system are proteins found in mucous that can help break apart the skeins.

“Nothing is going to happen as nicely as in our model — which is more of a good start for anyone who wants to take more measurements — but our model shows the physical forces play the biggest role,” Thiffeault said.

While hagfish may act like an alien creature, understanding the behavior of tangled threads in a microscopic world could lead to new applications for gel technology in the world of industry and medicine, according to the researchers. At least one company, Benthic labs, is working on developing a synthetic slime that could be used in consumer products, such as packaging and clothing, in place of materials derived from petroleum.

One species of hagfish, Pacific hagfish, can be found off the West Coast from Canada to Mexico in waters from 50 to 3,000 feet deep.

Amusing Monday: Simon shares quirky, all-too-familiar stories of a cat

British animator Simon Tofield has turned his love affair with cats into an amusing series of cartoon videos, delighting millions of viewers on YouTube and other outlets.

For his inspiration, Simon relies on his memories of his numerous companions through the years — Jess, Maisy, Hugh, Teddy, Poppy and Lilly — but the name of the cat in his cartoon is known simply as Simon’s Cat.

The first video on this page asks the question “Do cats really hate water?” It is from Simon’s highly informative series called “Simon’s Cat Logic,” in which cat behavioral expert Nicky Trevorrow joins the conversation to explain how cats think.

I have always loved cats and thought I knew something about them, but I have been learning quite a lot from listening to Nicky’s advice in these videos. For example, I never thought it made much difference where you place a bowl of cat food, but Nicky suggests that the food bowl be placed apart from the water bowl, because cats in the wild keep their food away from their water source. She also advises cat owners to place the food bowl out from a wall, so that the cat can eat with the wall behind and thus be able to peer into the open space for protection. It’s at least worth some experimentation.

The second video on this page is Simon’s very first “Simon’s Cat” animation from March 4, 2008, called “Cat Man Do.” It illustrates perhaps the most important question in a cat’s life: Who really is in control?

From that first video, Simon went on to produce a series of short delightful animations that cover all sorts of cat experiences, including interactions with other animals. Check out the full list of Simon’s Cat Shorts.

In 2013, he produced a video that tells about his early life and how he progressed to become a professional animator with an ongoing love of cats. It’s called “The Simon’s Cat Story.”

His Latest video, released in December, is called “Winter Games” and can be viewed in the third video player on this page.

Simon’s most ambitious project so far is a 13-minute full color action video with sound effects and music called “Off to the Vet,” which you can view in the last video player on this page. The care that went into this project is obvious, but if you want to see behind the scenes and learn about the intricacies of animation, check out the 10 videos that cover all aspects of the production, from story inspiration to character voices, along with a companion book of the same name.

Simon, who works as an animator at Tandem Films in London, has had a lot of success with his cat animations, branching into:

As for cat knowledge you can use, check out these episodes of “Cat Logic”: