A biologist walks into a bar… (ouch!)

Several years ago, in my college years, I enrolled in a marine biology course that took me abroad to Copenhagen, Denmark. There, I found myself one of many wide-eyed American students tackling the marine sciences of the northern seas. One day, during a marine mammalogy class – perhaps as an aside to capture our attention during the short daylight hours, or perhaps over beers one night during one of our many field trips where we trawled for fish or sampled reindeer jerky and minke whale – our marine mammalogy professor recounted the following story.

As the story goes, a biologist was given the assignment of patrolling the tundra outside of Churchill, Manitoba (Canada) in search of nuisance polar bears. His job was to respond to reports of nuisance bears within the city limits, track down the offenders, tranquilize them with a dart gun, and relocate the bears outside the city limits. Responding to a call one day, he tracked down and darted the offending bear, only to watch it turn and rush off into the trees. Knowing from experience that the tranquiler dart would kick in before too long, he set off after the bear on foot. After wandering through the trees for some time, he came across a polar bear passed out in the snow and – to make sure the tranquilizer had taken effect – he gave the bear a swift kick with his boot. To the biologist’s horror, the polar bear reared up in surprise and bolted for the woods. After taking a moment to catch his breath, the biologist doubled back toward the truck. It was only then, as he neared his truck, that he stumbled across a second polar bear – the bear he had darted – asleep in the tundra.

By VxD [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

In an effort to track down the source of the story, I emailed my professor, who passed me along to her friend, who heard the story as a master’s thesis student while working with famed polar bear scientist Dr. Ian Stirling, who alleged the story was about polar bear scientist Dr. Charles Jonkel. But even as I was digging deeper into the origins of this story, I realized that what made it so unique was not that it had happened to polar bear scientist X or researcher Y (although admittedly, there’s definitely a good story there worth tracking down), but that the whole thing plays out like a good joke. It is an example of an occupational hazard one comes across as a field biologist that, despite your brush with death (read: drug runners, mountain lions, Sasquatch), you know you’ll be laughing at over beers in the years to come – assuming you make it through alive. In fact, living to tell the tale is key: otherwise, the punchline becomes a headline.

So in the spirit of good humor and in celebration of the field biologists who risk life and limb in the name of Science (be they mammalogists, ornithologists, herpetologists, or botanists), I’ve collected and cleaned up a handful of *good* biologist jokes I’ve heard told over the years – tightening the strings here and there so they ring and read true.

If you have any *good* biologist jokes you’ve heard or told you think are worth sharing, feel free to contribute in the Comments below…

A group of ornithologists met one day over lunch to discuss applying for a $100,000 Federal grant to investigate the “V” formation commonly observed in Canada geese during their fall migration. It had been observed that one side of the “V” always appeared to be longer than the other side.

The environmental consultant was first to stand up and said, “I say we ask for $200,000, and attempt to model the wind drag coefficients. We can have our geologists record and map the ground topography and then our staff meteorologists can predict potential updraft currents. Our internal CAD department can then produce 3-D drawings of the predicted wing tip vortices. Then, after several years of study, our in-house publications department could produce a nice thick report full of charts and graphs.”

The senior research biologist, a professor at the local university, cleared his throat and responded, “No, no! We only need $150,000. We can train a group of domesticated geese to fly in formations of equal length and then compare their relative fitness to wild geese. We can then publish the results in the Journal of Wildlife Management.”

Just then, the field biologist stood up and headed for the door. “Where are you going?” the group asked. “I’m leaving” he replied, “I’ve heard enough. No one has to give me $100,000 to find out that the reason one side of the “V” is longer is simply because there are more damn geese on that side!”

◊ ◊ ◊

Q: How do you identify a bald eagle?

A: All his feathers are combed over to one side.

◊ ◊ ◊

A logger driving down the highway one day saw two botanists trying to measure the height of a small pine tree. Their tape measure was not long enough, so even with one botanist standing on the shoulders of the other, they couldn’t extend the tape to the tree’s top. Over and over, the top botanist would lose his balance and fall to the ground. Feeling sorry for the pair, the logger got out of his truck, grabbed a chainsaw from the cab, and cut down the tree. Then, the logger pulled out a tape measure and measured the tree. “OK guys, the tree is 14 feet, 6 inches.” Satisfied, the logger climbed into his truck and drove away.

The two botanists were stunned speechless. Finally one said to the other,”How do you like that, we were trying to measure the height of the tree and that stupid jerk measured the width.”

◊ ◊ ◊

According to the Knight-Ridder News Service, the inscription on the metal bands used by the U.S. Department of the Interior to tag migratory birds has been changed. The bands used to bear the address of the Washington Biological Survey, abbreviated — Wash. Biol. Surv. — until the agency received the following letter from an Arkansas camper:

“Dear Sirs:

While camping last week I shot one of your birds. I think it was a crow. I followed the cooking instructions on the leg tag and I want to tell you it was horrible.”

The bands are now marked Fish and Wildlife Service.

{you can read about the origins of this joke, which dates back to the 1920’s, at www.snopes.com}

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  1. #1 by Melissa on January 23, 2013 - 12:07 am

    These were great, Matthew!

  2. #2 by Justin on January 23, 2013 - 12:07 pm

    awesome! but there have got to be better botanist jokes out there. I mean really.

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