Sharks. Tornado. SHARKNADO!
That was the tagline for last evening’s premiere of the SyFy channel original movie, Sharknado. The “mockbuster” movie is based on a hurricane that hits Los Angeles, spawning tornadoes full of sharks.
Nevermind that a hurricane has never hit Los Angeles — although a former hurricane in 1939 did hit Long Beach as a tropical storm. One must go back to 1858 to find a hurricane that struck southern California. As such, the plot is based on a climate change what-if.
Starring Tara Reid and Ian Ziering, written by Thunder Levin, and directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, Sharknado gave rise to a Twitter-avalanche that rivaled the recent volume of discussion following the Asiana 214 plane crash at San Francisco International Airport.
In the first IMDB user review of Sharknado, entitled, “Gloriously Incompetent and Gleefully Terrible,” user flixspix writes,
And yet with a group of pals you would be hard pressed to find a better time. Absolutely nothing make sense. Physics and natural laws are ignored. Horrible CGI and cringe-worthy dialog. Outrageous continuity exceeded only by horrible color correction and clunky editing. The all together wooden acting no doubt achieved in single takes is sincere, earnest and fails on levels that should win awards.
And you can’t stop watching. My friends, yelled, laughed, joked, stomped, laughed some more and had a fine time. Now how many times can you say that watching a movie? It literally becomes an interactive experience.
It is surely a classic. Not sure exactly what kind. But it is a classic.
But as a scientist, science communications professor, and strategist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, I’ve become much more open-minded about strategies to bring science to the public. You really can’t let these cultural phenomena pass you by, no matter how silly they might seem at the outset.
In fact, Atif Kukaswadia wrote on Sci-Ed at PLOS Blogs how science fiction cinema can be used in science education, citing among other examples how Drs. Tara Smith and Greg Tinkler made use of a pending zombie apocalypse to teach Iowa schoolkids about the basic tenets of infection disease pandemics.
The key to this approach is that once a viewer is hooked in to a science fiction film, the visual and emotional energy of such a guilty pleasure can be tapped to distinguish science and fact from what’s portrayed on the screen.
So what science can be taught from Sharknado?
A frank and funny interview with writer Levin revealed his historical knowledge of rare “fish-rain” events that he and his team took to the next “logical” extreme. Indeed, several reports in the meteorological literature note events where fish rained from the sky, predominantly around coastal areas but over inland areas as well. Most often cited is an event in October 1951 where fish were sucked from a large lake in northwestern Macedonia and descended from the sky.
The most recent report came in early 2010 from the remote town of Lajamanu in northcentral Australia, about 400 miles south of Darwin. A photo from this Daily Mail article shows a bucket of dead spangled perch that residents described as being alive when they fell from the sky.
Dr. Greg Forbes (no apparent relationship to Forbes magazine) at the Weather Channel wrote in 2005 about two events in the U.S. that were also attributed to tornadic thunderstorms:
- On 23 October 1947 between 7 and 8 AM fish ranging from 2-9″ in length fell from the sky at Marksville, LA. Fish averaged one per square yard in places. Several people were struck.
– On the morning of 28 June 1957, small fish, frogs, and crayfish fell by the thousands during a rainstorm at Magnolia Terminal near Thomasville, AL. Many of the fish were alive and placed in ponds and swimming pools. There was an F2 tornado 15 miles to the south near Whatley.
I think that the crayfish would definitely hurt.
These rare but real-life events provide an opportunity to discuss topics such as how the forces of a tornado would — or wouldn’t — allow fish to remain alive or how far can a tornado carry objects, from small fish to cows to great white sharks.
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