Anyone who’s anyone is familiar with the Most Interesting Man. His smile is so contagious, the CCD created a vaccine to shield against its irresistible effect. It has been fabled he beat God himself in an arm wrestling match. He amassed and sold off the only collection of beanie babies to ever be worth more than five dollars. But has the Most Interesting Man ever lost part of his hearing launching a grenade at a shark?
On the most recent episode of You’re the Expert, we talked with Dr. Phil Lobel, an ichthyologist at Boston University who may in fact be even more interesting than the World’s Most Interesting Man. For the past 40 years, Dr. Lobel has studied the sounds that fish make, and he was one of the first scientists in the world to record fish video and sound synchronously under water. His deep sea discoveries include the recognition that fish are both genetically disposed toward excellent auditory capabilities and very strategic in the way they produce sound, including the propensity to beat on a ‘swim bladder’ during the mating process. Dr. Phil provided us a sampling of these spawning bladder beats, which sounded a lot like an underwater Avicii concert.
Dr. Lobel began studying fish at a very early age, inspired by his father who was an avid fisherman. At the age of 17, he secured his first academically aquatic position at the University of Hawaii firing grenades at sharks to keep them away from the fish being studied by university scientists. If you think that sounds dangerous, don’t worry. Dr. Lobel tends to regard sharks in the same way many of us think about sitting in traffic, or about creating a powerpoint presentation. They’re kind of a hassle, but are a necessary part of doing one’s job.
Not only is he an accomplished grenade thrower and noted shark puncher, Dr. Lobel has also lead several expeditions to film and record new species of fish, and to test aquatic environments for pollutants. One expedition led him to the northern part of the Congo where he received grant money to look for a particular species of fish, but also to investigate Congolese rumors of modern dinosaurs. Dr. Lobel and his field team determined that the supposed dinosaurs were actually sixty foot pythons, which he casually mentioned may be up to 120 years old. Even Harry Potter couldn’t stare down a giant immortal snake without a great deal of angst and trepidation.
Let’s be honest, we all want to know a little bit more about fish sounds from a man who seems to have no fear. So to borrow a line from the man formerly known as the most interesting, when it comes to drinking from the cup of ichthyologic knowledge: Stay thirsty, my friends.
- Lee Stephenson, Production Associate
If that hasn't already whet your appetite, check out this epic rap video Dr. Lobel created with colleagues about fish spawning: