Marine Life

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

The Discovery of Two Extreme Sea Stars

Two new species of sea stars were discovered in the deep sea: Paulasterias tyleri (on the left) in a North Pacific hydrothermal vent community, and Paulasterias mcclaini (on the right) in the deep sea off the coast of Antarctica. Credit: Chris Mah, NMNH Recently, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History researcher Chris Mah and collaborators with the British Antarctic Survey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute used molecular tools and a scanning electron microscope to discover two new species of sea stars. These sea stars live across the world from one another, one in...Read more
A 3-D reconstruction of the skull of a fin whale fetus.

Keeping An Ear Out For Whale Evolution

The yellow features in this 3-D reconstruction of a fin whale fetal skull represent the early developmental stages of ear bones, characteristics that are extremely rare, fragile and nearly impossible to study via traditional research methods. Credit: Maya Yamato, Smithsonian Institution Large whales are notoriously hard to study. Except when rising to breathe, they swim beneath the ocean's surface out of human sight, which makes it difficult to find and track them. They often live far from land, beyond human reach, and can be quite shy if people do approach. Even if scientists could catch up...Read more

Rough Reputation: Are Invasive Species All Bad?

The vicious "killer shrimp." Credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory Pick up any news article about invasive species and you may confuse it with a police blotter. Generally, invasive species are "almost bulletproof" "marauders," "terrorizing" ecosystems and wildlife. The one-inch amphipod Dikerogammarus villosus —better known as "killer shrimp"—is "vicious" and "violent," "murderous" and "aggressive." The emerald ash borer is " Public Enemy No. 1 " in the Midwest. These antagonistic feelings may be justified, as invasive species can endanger populations of native species,...Read more
A diver clears the bottom of a cargo ship of specimens.

Unearthing Information About Invasives From the Bottom of a Cargo Ship

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) ecologist, Ian Davidson, is under the belly of a cargo ship collecting specimens. Credit: Laurie Penland, Smithsonian I am once again leaving my familiar world behind and descending into the abyss below. The first dive of an entirely new expedition is the most magical. I am a member of a scientific research dive team studying biological invasions in coastal marine ecosystems off the coast of Bermuda for the Smithsonian Marine Invasions Research Lab . As I sink beneath the belly of a massive cargo ship, I glide my hand down the side of the...Read more
An albatross soars over the ocean.

Looking for Love? Online Dating Under the Sea

Love is in the air at the National Museum of Natural History! Our scientists are helping species look for love in this series of “dating profiles” to celebrate Valentine’s Day. For more dating options head over to the Unearthed Blog from Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History! We're partial to the sea otter and the triplewart seadevil ! Screen name: HamletNotRomeo Species: Shy hamlet ( Hypoplectrus guttavarius ) Sex: Male and female (keeps my options open) Location: Caribbean, usually hanging out near coral reefs Details: I'm a scaly and colorful Caribbean fish. I'm blue and yellow...Read more
A "reef hotel" made of PVS layers on the seafloor.

Worth the Investment: Ocean Real Estate Reveals Hidden Diversity

Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian's Sant Chair for Marine Science, puts out an Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS) during a dive in the Red Sea. Credit: Michael Berumen Good real estate is hard to find. This is as true underwater as it is on land. So when Smithsonian scientist Dr. Matthieu Leray built 18 potential homes for undersea creatures living on oyster reefs, they moved in fast. After just six months in the water, Dr. Leray counted more than 2,000 different types of organisms—most of them very small—living in his small underwater “condos,” which were placed in a variety of locations...Read more

Exploring a Unique Biodiversity Hotspot In the Gulf of Maine

Cashes Ledge is a wild, special place in the heart of the Gulf of Maine. This underwater mountain range is home to a great diversity of life, with colors typically associated with a coral reef rather than a cold, northern environment. Its steep peaks reach almost to the ocean’s surface—a fact that historically made Cashes Ledge a dangerous place for fishermen, who could easily snag and rip or lose their nets on the jagged underwater mountaintops. As a result, the thriving ecosystems on the Ledge have been relatively undisturbed by people for centuries. To promote the rebuilding of New England...Read more
School of blue rockfish in a kelp bed.

Stinkin' Seaweed Makes Tasty Food for Coastal Animals

School of Blue Rockfish ( Sebastes mystinus ) in a kelp bed consisting mostly of the bull kelp ( Nereocystis luetkeana ). Credit: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS Most people try to avoid rotting kelp at the beach. The feeling of a floating piece of seaweed wrapping around an ankle is enough to shake even the most steeled swimmer, and then there's the strong smell! But in our research group, we go out of our way to find rotting seaweed at the shore so that we can study how kelp tissues change as they die and decompose. While this may seem like an odd thing to care about, detached and decomposing...Read more
The coastline of American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary

The Reefs of American Samoa: A Story of Hope

American Samoa National Marine Sanctuary comprises a fringing coral reef ecosystem nestled within an eroded volcanic crater on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa. Credit: Wendy Cover Sometimes called the rainforests of the sea, coral reefs are incredibly diverse and complicated systems. Because of this complexity, it can be a challenge to manage and protect reefs—and sometimes multiple threats must be addressed in quick succession. Overfishing, pollution and coral predators all have negative impacts on coral and the many animals that live on the reef. But with vigilant protection and...Read more

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