By now, you have probably heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch . The name conjures the image of a floating island made of familiar plastic trash such as soda bottles and plastic bags, disposable utensils and lighters. However, this image doesn’t really capture the full spectrum of plastic debris that is out there. While some of the plastic pieces swirling in the Pacific Ocean are large, many of them are closer to the size of a popcorn kernel—and certainly small enough for fish to eat, at least in theory. While we have lots of evidence that sea turtles , seabirds , and marine mammals eat...
Sometimes I think that our planet Earth, named for the Old English word for “dry land” (eorthe), should get a new name. Despite our knowledge that more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface is ocean—definitely not “dry land”—we still refer to our home by an 8th century description. The same goes for Earth Day. Since 1970, people around the world have set aside April 22nd of each year to think about protecting the environment. This includes the ocean, as it’s a huge part of Earth’s environment. But the sea often seems to play a background role compared to more terrestrial causes. What many...
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, setting off the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history. As a result, April 20th of each year is the day to remember the lives taken by the explosion and consider the recovery of Gulf communities and wildlife. However, 3.19 million barrels of oil didn't burst from the well in a single day—it steadily streamed out over the course of 87 days before an experimental cap stopped the flow on July 15, 2010 . Those were 87 days when people around the country and world watched as oil spewed from the wellhead...
In the ocean world, there are many women to celebrate during Women’s History Month. Consider Rachel Carson , who started her career as a marine biologist, Sylvia Earle (“Her Deepness”), or our very own Nancy Knowlton , a self-proclaimed #OceanOptimist after years of coral reef doom and gloom. This March, we are narrowing down the list by interviewing researchers who have gotten their hands dirty—literally. The women scientists featured here are all making history by contributing to the science surrounding the Gulf Oil Spill . Find out how they initially got interested in their research and...
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 with them, large whales are too big to capture for study at sea or in captivity. Modern technologies, like GPS trackers , recordings of whale sounds and DNA testing , have helped us to learn more about whales in the wild. New technologies can also help us learn from museum collections of...
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, reduce diversity, and disrupt the health of entire ecosystems. On a larger scale,...
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 vessel. The painted metal feels like smooth skin, but it is covered in a thin layer of brown biofilm, microbial life that clings to painted surfaces and is generally found...
Charles Darwin is so well known he almost needs no introduction. The 19th-century naturalist and geologist spent his life documenting and collecting information on the natural world . From birds to flowers to invertebrates, living and extinct, all species and their distributions held his interest, and he yearned to explain the great diversity of life—the "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful"—that he observed. After more than 20 years of reading, writing, asking questions, accumulating data , and comparing notes with other scientists, he presented his revolutionary theory of...
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...
Tags: Reproduction
Credit: Illustration from "Chicken Little" in the New Barnes Reader vol.1, New York, 1916 The sky is falling! The sky is falling! So cries Chicken Little (or Chicken Licken, or Henny Penny, depending on the telling) in the well-known folk tale . In the story, an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head, and she takes it as a sign that the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end. She spreads the news—“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—and causes mass hysteria. In some versions of the story, her prophecy leads to her own demise: in a panicked state, she and her friends are easily...