Marine Life

Whale Earwax: What You Can Learn From Strange Collections

An unidentified earplug from the National Museum of Natural History collection. The light and dark layers come from a build up of keratin and lipids and can be used to estimate whale age. Credit: Megan Chen, NMNH Ever collected something a bit strange? Snow globes, pens, stamps and coins are fairly typical, but museum collections can have some odd groups. Like hundreds of whale earwax plugs. Yes, that’s right: whale earwax. All cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) produce earwax, just like humans. In some species of baleen whales and in sperm whales, whale earwax can build up in layers...Read more

In the Arctic, the Times, They Are a-Changin: You Can Pitch in to Understand How

This 1874 illustration of California gray whales ( Eschrichtius robustus ) shows a group of individuals at the edge of their modern day range in the North Pacific Ocean, blocked from traveling further east into Arctic waters by thick ice barriers. Credit: Plate V from Scammon 1874 ‘California grays among the ice’ Invasive species are often in the news these days, with human-transported organisms popping up in unexpected places. But in this era of climate change, there is a whole new kind of invasive species, those that are taking advantage of changing conditions to expand into areas not...Read more

“Storied Fish”: Why Sustainable Seafood Requires A Tale

An opah at the Honolulu Fish Auction with a printed label attached that includes an ID number, bar code, the date, the receiver's ID number, the cart number, species name, vessel name, and weight of the fish. Credit: Crystal Sanders Imagine sitting down at your favorite sushi restaurant. Your server arrives, laying before you a perfectly wrapped dragon roll, which comes adorned with a small square of rice paper resting on top of the spicy mayo. Taking out your phone, you scan the code written delicately in soy-based ink upon the rice paper and immediately your phone displays a description of...Read more
Trout cages in 30 feet of water.

Aquaculture Comes Full Circle

Trout cages sit in 30 feet of water and are surrounded by ropes where mussels and sugar kelp grow, absorbing excess nutrients in the water. Credit: Rebecca Zeiber, N.H. Sea Grant Until recently we were farmers on land and hunter-gatherers at sea, but how we get our seafood is changing rapidly. With demands for seafood growing and catch from wild fisheries stagnating , aquaculture is an increasingly important player in maintaining seafood as a viable food source around the world. The global aquaculture industry has grown by leaps and bounds since 1980— up 8 percent every year through 2012 . In...Read more

Seaside Lichens

Horizontal bands of color represent different species of lichen that have adapted to the conditions at different heights above sea level. Credit: Stephen Sharnoff Very few plant species can survive close to the ocean, where pounding surf fills the air with tiny salt crystals. Too much salt is not good for us, and it is not good for most plants. When you think about it, the land side of the seashore is a really harsh environment, with crashing waves, salty spray and a constantly moving shoreline. Living things need special adaptations to survive there. One group of organisms called lichens,...Read more

Spirals in Time: A Walk at the Seashore

When I set out to write a book about mollusks (called Spirals in Time ), I wasn't quite prepared for just how many animals I would get to know. There are somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 mollusk species alive today, from clams, cockles and conches to snails, nautiluses and argonauts. I knew I wouldn’t try to name check them all or build an encyclopedia of everything that‘s known about them. Instead, my book would attempt to answer why the mollusks are so wondrous and diverse. I grew up exploring the wild, Atlantic-swashed shores of southwest England on family holidays. Back then,...Read more

Why I Love Polychaetes

Credit: © 2008 K.J. Osborn Polychaete worms are not your average cringe-inducing, writhing worms. (Okay, maybe some are.) They are fascinating, varied, and a critical part of our ocean. The visual variety among the more than 10,000 described species means a polychaete enthusiast is never bored. They come in every imaginable color and pattern, from completely transparent to iridescent to candy striped. You can find polychaetes of every shape from spherical to sausage-shaped to pencil thin, and every size from microscopic to several feet long. Some are smooth and sleek, others frilly and...Read more

Art Forms in Nature: Marine Species From Ernst Haeckel

Today’s discoveries about our planet’s biological diversity build upon the research of previous generations of scientists. The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a digital library committed to providing free and open access to this treasure trove of information, much of which is held in the libraries of natural history research institutions around the world . From recent articles published via premier scientific journals to monumental volumes marking the beginning of our study of the natural world, BHL’s collections include information about species from every corner of the globe and...Read more

Why the Littlest Fish Matter a Whole Lot

A tornado of sardines swirls around diver and photographer Erwin Poliakoff in the Philippines. Credit: Erwin Poliakoff Top predators along the California coast are having a rough year. Recently starving sea lions have showed up on California beaches and are clamoring for fish at the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River ; tens of thousands of dead Cassin’s Auklets have washed up on shores from Alaska to California. Although we cannot say precisely why these animals are having such a hard time finding food, we can point to a problem with their food source, forage fish. What exactly are forage fish...Read more

Bugs and Slugs: The Hidden Secret to Healthy Seagrasses

Neptune grass ( Posidonia oceanica ) is a slow-growing and long-lived seagrass native to the Mediterranean. Credit: Gaynor Rosier/Marine Photobank Slip into the water along a sheltered coast in nearly any part of the world and you’re likely to find yourself in an emerald field of seagrass . Like flowering plants on land, seagrasses grow, flower, and produce seeds—and they do it all underwater. Although they may lack the star power of coral reefs, seagrass meadows can be equally beautiful, teeming with a diversity of life, and are every bit as important as reefs. Seagrass meadows are nurseries...Read more