Scientists

The Charles W. Morgan tallship

History and Modern Science Collide for the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan

The Charles W. Morgan sailing en route to Newport on June 15, 2104. Credit: Courtesy of Mystic Seaport. Traveling aboard the Charles W. Morgan , a 173-year-old whaling ship on its 38th Voyage, I’m struck by its paradox: this vessel which spent years chasing and killing whales is now helping us to study these magnificent creatures. This summer's voyage is an unusual one. Along with the scientific research done onboard, I’m also coordinating a cohort of artists and scholars selected as 38th Voyagers, who will sail for a day out of Provincetown, Massachusetts into Stellwagen Bank National Marine...Read more
A humpback whale breaching.

Bacteria on Whale Skin Tell a Tale of Health and Sickness

A humpback whale breaching. Credit: Wanetta Ayers Whales swimming in the ocean are never really alone. Even if one swims by itself with no other whales for miles around, it still has company—the tiny microbes that live on its skin. For a long time, these microbes went unnoticed or ignored. What scientists knew about skin microbes on whales was limited to studies on stranded or deceased animals, and virtually nothing was known about the microbes residing on healthy, free-ranging whales. But as links are now emerging between the microbiology of human skin and health , immunity and skin...Read more
A walrus sits on top of ice.

The Cultural Icescapes of the Arctic

The Inupiaq people of Alaska have more than 100 words for different kinds of sea ice, illustrated here. A female walrus and her calf ( isavgalik ) rest on ice ( nunavait ) in the midst of scattered pack ice ( tamalaaniqtuaq ), interspersed with patches of calm flat water ( quuniq ). The mass of floating pack ice ( sigu ) consists of various types of ice, such as large floes ( puktaaq ), vertical blocks of ice ( puikaaniq ), ice floes with overhanging shelves ( quaŋiłlaq ), large pieces of darker ice ( taagluk ), and small floating pieces of dirt ice ( saŋałait ). Credit: The Wales Inupiaq Sea...Read more

Coralline Algae: The Unsung Architects of Coral Reefs

Many species of pink coralline algae, which cements coral reefs together, cover a reef surface in the Southern Line Islands. Credit: Maggie D. Johnson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Stare at a tide pool and you will often see a crust of pink coating the bottom. No, this is not bubblegum from some careless teenager’s shoe: it’s a stony kind of seaweed that, like other seaweeds, harnesses energy from the sun through photosynthesis. It may not look like the kelps and other leafy seaweeds that we usually think of—but seaweeds, which are a type of algae, come in a wide variety of colors,...Read more
A puffin with a mouthful of fish.

Watching for Fish in the Puffin's Beak

Atlantic puffins have spiny tongues that, pressed against the roof of their mouths, help to hold ten or more small forage fish at once without losing any along the way. Credit: Steve Garvie, Flickr In recent years, I have taken to watching flying fish along the Maine coast. Not the usual flying fish that skim over tropical seas, but fish dangling from the beaks of flying puffins. Puffins are famous for loading their colorful beaks with a dozen or more fish and winging home to feed their solitary, ravenous chick. In the late 19th century, spotting such overladen beaks was rare, as hunting for...Read more

How Hurricanes Shape Wetlands in Southern Louisiana

The grasses and animals living in marshes help to filter water and stabilize shorelines, along with providing habitat for a variety of mammals, fish, shellfish and amphibians and a haven for migratory waterfowl. Credit: Eve Cundiff, Flickr We all know that hurricanes can have destructive effects on human communities and infrastructure—but what about their effects on coastal wetlands? Until Hurricane Katrina, no one had ever mapped hurricane-caused land loss in Louisiana, where a staggering 90 percent of coastal wetland loss in the United State's contiguous 48 states occurs. The first study to...Read more
Great Shearwater in Flight

12,000 Miles to Go: Migrating with Shearwaters

Oceanic birds are a rare treat to see because these birds are not casual visitors to our coastline—to see them you normally have to get on a boat. So late last spring I was amazed to find hundreds of shearwaters stranded on the beach along the Atlantic coast of Florida. Shearwaters are oceanic birds related to albatrosses that spend most of their lives at sea, normally coming to land only to breed. In talking with locals, I learned that the strandings happen when strong winds blow out of the East. Weak from their long migrations, these birds had the bad luck to encounter strong winds as they...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
Where the pH is the lowest, corals can no longer grow - sand, rubble and seagrasses replace the reef.

Sneak Peek: Future of Coral Reefs in an Acidifying Ocean

Scientists don’t often get the opportunity to travel through time. But nestled among the beautiful coral reefs of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a place that provides a glimpse today of what could be the biggest future threat to coral reef survival: ocean acidification . Ocean acidification is occurring because the ocean has absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels . That carbon is changing the chemistry of the ocean, making seawater more acidic. Reef biologists expect this to be a bigger and bigger problem as more and more...Read more

Pages