Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflections on Scotoplanes:Sea Pigs in Pop Culture, Facebook, Art, Octonauts and Toys!

I started this blog in 2006 without a really good idea of what I was getting into.. and it was my big Sea Pig post (here) that really gave me an idea of just how far a blog that specialized on echinoderms (of all things!) could go.

So, its now been three years and I've had a chance to look at some numbers and trends. This has given me a chance to see exactly HOW my sea pig post has presented these animals into the public eye.

Now bear in mind, that the term "sea pig" actually refers to sea cucumbers in the family Elpidiidae, mostly in the genus Scotoplanes but several genera are similar and fit the bill pretty easily.

Prior to the late 20th/early 21st Century, before we had video and crisp pictures of these animals in their natural habitat, the number of people who even knew these animals even existed was something you could count on two hands.  This included a small number of echinoderm taxonomists (no more than 6) and deep-sea biologists who had perhaps seen the dead ones or perhaps pictures from towed underwater cameras.
As the early 2000s rolled around, some pics and etc. rolled around. People were discovering some of the weird and crazy stuff that lived in the deep-sea. Giant Isopods and all of the "big stars" of a deep-sea biology book were slowly coming to life!

In 2009, I came across an unusual spike in readership (probably from a Facebook quiz) that was focused on a "sea pig" I had posted from a blog about a scientific meeting on image analysis. I rapidly figured out (thanks to some help from friends on Facebook) that people had seen this strange beast and wanted to know what it was. So, I took the July 4th weekend and wrote that up and posted it!

The result greatly impressed me.  And then, hot on the heels of my post, Animal Planet followed up with a piece on Sea Pigs that same month! (July 2009)

Here are the Google Search trends graph for "sea pig" and the term "sea pigs".  Basically, there is a HUGE spike in hits for July 2009 (when my sea pig post went up, followed by the Animal Planet post), and a significantly greater interest afterwards...

What do the numbers mean?  Here's the explanation from Google Trends: 
The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don't represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100. Each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100. When we don't have enough data, 0 is shown.
Its fascinating to see how outreach and social media have affected the perception and awareness of a weird, little sea cucumber, which frankly, nobody gave a damn about throughout most of the 20th Century. And I'll be honest, research on this species has not perceptibly jumped but perhaps that's just a matter of time as inspiration and funds dovetail...

Where has the "concept" of sea pig gone? How have they entered into the culture? 

1. There is ART.

They have replaced reindeer on Holiday cards!
I love this one.
The Sea Pig as Meme.

2. There are toys (albeit Japanese candy toys)

3. Sea Pigs were on OCTONAUTS! (and were scientifically accurate!) My thanks to "Skymouse" who sent me the original link!

4. and of course the famous "voice guy" from Buzz Feed and so on Ze Frank did one of his famous "True Facts about the sea pig" videos!

5. and MOST recently, Kronos Quartet has been inspired to compose music from/about/by Sea pigs??

Did I directly participate in getting sea pigs on Octonauts? No, but would Octonauts have a show featuring sea pigs without my blog back in 2009? Who knows?  But its nice to know that contributions and/or influences from the Echinoblog can be seen in a variety of places.....

Have you seen some new art/statue/show/pop culture reference to sea pigs? Let me know! I'd love to continue seeing how sea pigs become part of popular culture..

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