Marine Life

A Hawaiian petrel in flight

4,000 Years of Marine History through the Eyes of a Seabird

A Hawaiian petrel flies over part of its North Pacific feeding grounds. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jim Denny Most people have never heard of the Hawaiian petrel , an endangered, crow-sized seabird that spends the majority of its life searching for food over the North Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, this bird is no stranger to human influence, and it has a stern lesson to teach us about the history of the open ocean. When it comes to what marine predators can find to eat, humans are changing things, and fast. My colleagues and I have spent a number of years studying the history of this amazing...Read more
Emperor Penguin Chick with Mother

Happy World Penguin Day!

Credit: Wikimedia User "Mtpaley" Even if you aren't a hardcore birder, chances are you have some hidden love for penguins. These flightless birds have captured our hearts through countless movies, beautiful images and their adorable fluffy young. Panoramic scenes of their large breeding colonies make penguin populations seem limitless, but the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists 11 of the 18 species as Vulnerable or Endangered. Penguins have certain characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to large-scale changes to our oceans and climate: their reproductive lifestyle of...Read more

Field Notes from the East African Coast

Traditional fishing techniques now involve monofilament nets, with snorkelers diving down to ensure the bigger fish don't get away. Credit: Caine Delacy We began this journey three months ago, a team of scientists and filmmakers traveling the East African coastline by boat to document and research the status of coral reefs from South Africa to Kenya. We have observed a lot of changes in the coral reef communities as we travel north. Some of these changes are natural shifts in biodiversity, species composition and structure of the reef communities. There are also those changes that are caused...Read more
A blue crab on the Mid-Atlantic coast of the U.S.

A Bite of Bitter Crab

Credit: Brian Henderson, Flickr user stinkenroboter Hopefully you've never bitten into a delicious hunk of snow crab meat and instantly spit it out because instead of crab you tasted... aspirin?! If you have, it might have been crab meat infected with a species of Hematodinium , a parasitic dinoflagellate that is the cause of Bitter Crab Disease in cold-water crab species. This parasite lowers the “tasty factor” of commercially important cold-water crabs around the world. At present, there are reports of 39 species of crab and shrimp from 12 countries being infected. Recent victims include...Read more

Ocean Acidification Excites Boring Sponges

This orange boring sponge ( Cliona varians ) overgrows several coral species at Panama's Smithsonian Tropical Studies Institute. Credit: Amber Stubler Boring sponges get a bad rap. Their own name betrays them, announcing to the world that they are unexciting, ordinary and quite frankly, boring. However, if ever a misnomer existed, this is it. More flatteringly referred to as excavating or bioeroding sponges, these animals play the important yet thankless role of breaking down and recycling calcium carbonate (the main component of eggshells, corals and shelled marine organisms). Using a...Read more
A ribbon worm curled up in a mud flat.

The Search for an Elusive Ribbon Worm

A Hubrechtia ribbon worm, found after a long day of searching in mud flats in Fort Pierce, Florida. Credit: Eduardo Zattara, Smithsonian Institution With 1,400 named species of ribbon worms inhabiting every ecosystem on earth, seeking one out should be an easy proposition. But I quickly learned that it can be quite daunting when you’re looking for certain teeny-tiny mud-loving worms. I recently accompanied Dr. Jon Norenburg and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Eduardo Zattara, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History research scientists in the Department of Invertebrate Zoology , on a research...Read more

How Coastal Seagrass Feeds the Deep

Seagrasses are flowering plants that can form dense underwater meadows and are an important shallow water habitat. Credit: Heather Dine, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary It is a well-known fact that for animals living in the deep sea, food can be scarce. The food that is around usually rains down from above as dead animals and organic particles from plankton living near the ocean’s surface. Occasionally, a bonus in the form of a good-sized dead fish, a porpoise, or even a whale will come down, the whale providing food for millions of animals for scores of years. Marine plants, seaweeds...Read more

Humpback Whales in Antarctica: What Are the Whales Doing?

A humpback whale breaching in Antarctic waters. Credit: Ari Friedlaender Humpback whales ( Megaptera novaengliae ) are the most abundant baleen whale in the nearshore waters around the Antarctic Peninsula. They, along with millions of penguins, seals, seabirds, and other whales, feed primarily on Antarctic krill ( Euphausia superba ) during summer months. For a large 50-foot humpback whale, there needs to be a significant amount of these tiny, shrimp-like prey available to make the energetically costly act of lunge feeding worth the effort! But very little is known about how these ocean...Read more
The elusive giant squid

Reflections on the Successful Search for the Giant Squid

This still of a giant squid is from the first video filmed of the species in its natural habitat. Credit: NHK/NEP/Discovery Channel I have been at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History since 1966, studying and reporting on all kinds of octopuses and squids . But I’ve always had a particular fascination with the mysterious and elusive giant squid . My interest in giant squid began in graduate school when my professor showed me two small, incomplete, stinky specimens—some of the few specimens in the world at that time. We knew virtually nothing about their biology, behavior,...Read more

Acrobatic Blue Whales Do the Twist While Feeding

Ari Friedlaender, a research scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab, tags a blue whale. Credit: Jeremy Goldbogen I have a vivid childhood memory of sitting under the Blue Whale model hanging in the Natural History Museum in London, eating an ice cream and wondering “How in the world did that whale get so big?” These days we are closer to knowing the answer. Over the past several years, a group of researchers have been studying how blue whales eat to better understand how such a big animal can survive on such small food. Blue whales are in a family of whales that have evolved comb-like...Read more

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