July 16, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Sharks and Beavers Inspire Humans

Animals never cease to amaze us with their clever solutions to problems that plague human technology.  EurekAlert told of work being done by the Society for Experimental Biology to emulate shark skin as a self-cleaning surface for boats; National Geographic News has pictures of the new product, and a comparison with shark skin.  The navy is very interested in this (ever seen a shark with barnacles?).  Not only would a sharkskin-like hull resist barnacles, it would make a ship glide with more ease through the water, saving energy.
   From the mammal world, National Geographic News reported that beaver dams are inspiring fish-friendly hydroelectric power plants.  “Beaver dams usually stand no more than ten feet (three meters) tall and integrate a series of steps into the slope,” reporter John Roach explained.  “This is a height and design surmountable by migrating fish… The dams are also a natural part of the environment in many parts of the world.”

Man’s solutions to both these problems have been clumsy, polluting and expensive.  It’s humbling to have to imitate supposed lower forms of life.  (Good.  Nothing like a little humility for us humans.)  Maybe the new biomimetics trend (see 02/09/2005 and 09/21/2004 stories, for example) will teach us how to cooperate with the environment instead of fighting it.  Need we point out that biomimetics operates on an implicit intelligent-design assumption.
    Shark facts are ubiquitous on the TV nature shows these days, to a fault (they seem to satisfy the peasants’ lust for gore).  How many more Shark Week specials can we take?  Time out, Discovery Channel and National Geographic TV.  If you can find the 1988 IMAX film Beavers, though, it’s a classic, fun for the whole family.

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Categories: Mammals, Marine Biology, Media

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