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Steve Palumbi

Professor of Marine Biology


Why it's hard to be a shark and other stories of extreme ocean life.


The sea is deep enough to crush molecules. At the bottom of a miles-high water column the pressure is so high that the lipids in nerve cell membranes stop being fluid and nerve conduction fails. So these animals have evolved lipid molecules that are still fluid under huge pressure. Of course, when you pull these critters up to the surface too fast, their lipids are TOO fluid and nerves melt. The ocean is full of environments as extreme as this - in heat, cold, depth, or oxygen levels. And ocean life adapts. But sometimes these adaptations build up into a package we call extreme, like sharks. This talk explores the adaptations of large sharks from their teeth (five times sharper than a razor blade) to their warm blood, to their senses, migrations, and pregnancies. We’ll paint a picture of sharks in popular culture and in real life - and pose the question: how can we co-exist?

Meet the Speaker:

Steve is a Professor of Biology, based at Stanford’s marine lab in Monterey. He has used genetic detective work to identify whales for sale in retail markets, sharks in shark fin soup, where restaurant conch come from, and is genetically mapping corals resistant to climate change. Recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Steve is a board member for several conservation organizations and a Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute of the Environment. His work has been used in design of the current network of marine protected areas in California, seafood labelling laws in Japan and the United States, and in numerous TV and film documentaries including the 2017 PBS series Big Pacific.Steve’s latest book for non-scientists is about the amazing species in the sea, written with Steve’s son and novelist Anthony. The Extreme Life of the Sea tells you about the fastest species in the sea, and hottest, coldest, oldest etc. Steve started the video production company Short Attention Span Science Theatre, and appears in many films and TV series about the sea

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