Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Fairy Shrimp Trilogy

Filmed, produced, and narrated by Ben Abbott at the Toolik Field Station in 2007, this documentary was forgotten as quickly as it was filmed, produced, and narrated.
Part I 
The four chapters of the trilogy represent retakes rather than sequential scenes as Abbott developed the narration and learned how to focus a camera.
Part II
Like most of Abbott's ventures, the film is simultaneously boring and unfinished. However, like other bad movies, the documentary has attracted a cult following of at least two arctic limnologists and ecologists.
Part III
At the end of the field season, Ken Fortino and Cody Johnson, two of Abbott's supervisors, discovered the series on the lab computer and entered it into the Toolik Talent show unbeknownst to Ben. It didn't win, but the public display before eminent arctic scientists revealed the fact that the subject organisms in the film were in fact amphipods (Hyalella azteca), not fairy shrimp (Branchionecta paludosa).

Part IV
While this mixup is the crustacean equivalent of mistaking a milking cow for a dachshund, (for those two organisms are more closely related than fairy shrimp to amphipods).
Once he knew what his movie was about, Abbott began a PR campaign to rebrand a species that has been maligned in popular culture for over 100 years. From the Wikipedia article on amphipods we learn of this century-old bias:

Although they are very abundant, widespread and diverse, amphipods do not feature strongly in the public imagination. Thomas Roscoe Rede Stebbing wrote in 1899:
No panegyrist of the Amphipoda has yet been able to evoke anything like popular enthusiasm in their favour. To the generality of observers they are only not repelled because the glance which falls upon them is unarrested, ignores them, is unconscious of their presence.
Last year a giant species of amphipod was discovered by the researcher wearing the grumpy shirt above. It was more than four miles below the surface at the bottom of the Pacific and would likely have made for a better poster child for the movement. Even the biggest amphipod, however, can't compare with the charismatic isopods. These relatives of the potato bug have been favored by humans for more than 300 million years, mostly because, as you can see in the picture below, they don't give a crap. 
As my brother Sam always says, "The less you pretend you are into them, the more they will be into you."


  1. I'll never forget these videos! Loved them... ahh 2007, the best summer of them all :-)

  2. I somehow acquired a copy of the videos and every once in a while pull them out when I need a little pick-me-up. I'll caddisfly away oh glory, I'll caddisfly away...

  3. Add one non-artic germanists to the admirers of the trilogy/quartet