Title text: Completely implausible? Yes. Nevertheless, worth keeping a can of shark repellent next to the bed.
Scientific animal tracking is commonly used to learn more about other species, particularly endangered ones, as a way of better understanding their physiology, behavior, and what risks they face in the wild. It's used in a wide variety of sciences, including wildlife biology, conservation, wildlife management and zoology. The scientists in this comic are working on a rather limited budget as Ponytail explains, say that they can't afford the (relatively minuscule) cost of hiring someone to retrieve a tracking tag from the water. Hence, they devise a plan that would actually cost far more: create one that will pop free, float to the surface, and inflate a giant helium balloon, causing it to gradually drift over land. Eventually, the balloon will slowly deflate and soft-land, and with any luck someone will find it and mail it back to the scientists. The shark is depicted much larger than the humans, and the quantity of helium necessary to lift it (as the later panels show) would be extremely expensive.
It goes horribly, hilariously wrong. The tag fails to pop free from the shark and proceeds to inflate the balloon while the shark is still attached. Although the balloon is shown too small to lift the shark (a helium balloon can only lift approximately one gram per liter in air), but the shark miraculously rises right along with the tracker tag, drifts back over land, and goes right after the scientists that had been tracking it. When Jill (in her first appearance) sees the two scientists running frantically from a flying shark, she figures that if such excitement is a daily part of a scientist's job, that's the job for her, as she tells her daddy Cueball. The title of the comic, Outreach, refers to the type of activities that scientists do in order to motivate kids to become scientists when they grow up, and it clearly worked for Jill who displays keen interest and great knowledge on many subjects in her next appearances.
The title text suggests keeping shark repellent by one's bed to account for the quite-unlikely event of something like this happening. Because you never know. It may be a reference to the Adam West Batman film where Batman just happens to have some in his helicopter. In reality, a balloon meant for lifting a tracker tag would be much too small to lift the shark, which is portrayed as being larger than person, so there is no danger. In addition, since sharks are fish, and fish cannot survive above water, the shark would die even if this could happen in real life. This doesn't stop movies like Sharknado (which was filmed after this comic) to portray sharks floating in the air. The title text of 1910: Sky Spotters seems to be a reference to this comic.
- [Ponytail faces two Cueball-like guys. All three are wearing goggles and lab-coats. Between them on a shelf stands a microscope and a beaker.]
- Ponytail: The tracking tag will record the shark's movement and habits.
- [The capsule is shown to float upward towards a water surface.]
- Ponytail (narrating): Then, it will pop free and float to the surface.
- [A coast is shown, with arrows directed from water to land. A small white circle on one of the arrows indicate the balloon.]
- Ponytail (narrating): We can't afford a recovery program, so the capsules will inflate helium balloons, drift over land,
- [The capsule is shown in close up. It has a caption on it.]
- Ponytail (narrating): And hopefully be found and mailed to us. Any questions?
- Caption: If found please call
- [Ponytail is standing over a groggy shark on a boat, with water behind her and a coastline in the background. She attaches the tracking tag to the shark.]
- [The shark is dropped headfirst off the boat, into the water with a large splash.]
- Shark: !!!
- [The course of the shark is shown, weaving around islands.]
- [The capsule is shown sticking out of the shark at the moment it is ready to pop free.]
- [The capsule remains attached to the shark.]
- [The balloon starts to inflate, still attached to the shark and underwater.]
- [As the balloon inflates, it starts to pull the shark to the surface.]
- Shark: ??
- [The balloon breaks the surface, pulling the shark with it.]
- [Jill, eating an ice cream cone is standing together with Cueball to the right in an otherwise empty frame.]
- [Two screaming scientists (A Cueball-like guy and Ponytail) runs past the two, who turns to look after them. The guy is holding the microscope and Ponytail the beaker from the first frame.]
- Scientists: Aaaaaaaa
- [A shark attached to a huge balloon floats past the girl and Cueball, it follows the scientists while snapping its jaws.]
- Shark: Chomp chomp
- [After the shark is gone, Jill turns to Cueball.]
- Jill: Daddy?
- Cueball: Yes?
- Jill: I want to be a scientist.
- This is the first xkcd comic featuring Jill.
- This comic used to be available as a T-shirt in the xkcd store before it was shut down.
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