When you think of educational television for kids, this may not be the first thing that comes to mind:
Yeah, I can’t believe it either, but lately I find myself using Spongebob as a point of reference when teaching kids about the natural history of marine invertebrates. It started when I told a class that the clam whose shell I was holding was a filter feeder, and started to explain what filter feeding is only to have one of them pipe up say, “Oh yeah, like Spongebob!” Apparently the cartoon occasionally shows him filter feeding just like a real sponge. Now I find myself doing some Googling to figure out whether Mr. Krabs is a hermit crab or a true crab. If he’s a true crab, has he ever been depicted molting, I wonder?
It isn’t just Spongebob, either; the other bit of pop culture that seems to come up regularly is Finding Nemo. When I take kids to the salt marsh we talk about how the marsh serves as a nursery for baby fish, who are much safer from predators there than in the open ocean. “Like how Nemo was supposed to stay on the reef?” Yes. Exactly. Where the barracudas couldn’t get him.
Honestly, if it teaches kids something about nature, I am all for it. Just so long as they understand that sea stars don’t really wear swim trunks!