The Ocean Blog

Shark Girl: Changing Shark Fear to Fascination

Madison Stewart, known to many simply as “shark girl,” is an inspiring young woman with a passion to protect the creatures most people fear: sharks. She’s been diving with sharks since the age of twelve. Here she is feeding a group of Caribbean reef sharks. Credit: Ernst Stewart As far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by sharks. My father introduced me to the ocean through books, documentaries and diving, and whenever we would see sharks on a dive in the Great Barrier Reef, it was always everyone's favorite part. There is pretty much no other animal in the ocean that...Read more
A juvenile Kemp's ridley sea turtle emerges from the nest

Taking the Temperature of the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Kemp's ridley sea turtles ( Lepidochelys kempii ) often emerge from their nests during the day, which is a rare (and dangerous) thing for sea turtle hatchlings! Credit: Terry Ross ( Flickr ) The Kemp’s ridley is a “riddler” among sea turtles . Although the species was initially recognized in 1880, scientists didn't know where it nested until 80 years later, when a film documenting about 40,000 Kemp’s ridley turtles nesting on a single day in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico was discovered. These massive, simultaneous nesting events or “arribadas” (meaning “arrival by sea” in Spanish) are spectacular to...Read more

Penguin Health Equals Ocean Health

Magellanic penguin parents typically lay two eggs under a bush or in a burrow, taking turns swimming out to sea to catch food for their chicks. Credit: Dietmar Temps ( Flickr ) It’s hard not to identify with penguins as they waddle about upright on land, clad in their tuxedo-like plumage. In their crowded breeding colonies, they squabble with and show off to their neighbors, sometimes resorting to petty theft. One can almost imagine joining the end of the queue when they follow one another in single file along icy paths, sometimes slipping or body sledding along the way . Penguins do far more...Read more

Smithsonian Stunt Turns Ocean Hall into Living Aquarium

A bull shark eating one of its many species of natural prey. Credit: DougWood2013, Flickr Natural History Museum transforms Ocean Hall into live aquarium for World Oceans Day The National Museum of Natural History is celebrating World Oceans Day this year with a splash. On June 8th, the museum will be transforming its flagship 23,000 square foot Ocean Hall into a fully functioning saltwater aquarium. The 150,000 gallon aquarium will feature more than 2,000 live species, many of which have model counterparts already on display in the hall. This is an exclusive opportunity that will only be...Read more

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

Where the Shark and the Snapper Roam

Grey reef sharks are among the most versatile and tough predators on a Pacific coral reef, but they are also among the most vulnerable species, as they are threatened by wasteful fishing practices like shark finning. Credit: Mark J. A. Vermeij The pre-industrial American landscape was once rightly described as a place where “the deer and the antelope roam.” On land, we take it for granted that the plant-eating deer and antelope far outnumber the wolves and other predators that eat them. Over the years, when scientists saw many plant-eaters and small fish on coral reefs but relatively few...Read more

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

The Whale Graveyard Whodunit

Chilean and Smithsonian paleontologists study several fossil whale skeletons at Cerro Ballena, next to the Pan-American Highway in Atacama Region, Chile, in 2011. Credit: Adam Metallo / Smithsonian Institution One of the ocean's tiniest organisms often does the most harm. Microscopic algae can grow rapidly to form harmful algal blooms (sometimes called "red tides"), which create unhealthy water conditions that can kill animals large and small. In 2013, hundreds of Florida manatees died from eating toxic red algae, which also killed off their usual seagrass food. That same year, more than 200...Read more

Finding Mangroves In Unexpected Places

A newly established black mangrove sits in a field of salt marsh near the northern limit of mangroves in Florida. Mangroves have been expanding near their northern limit in Florida and the expansion is linked to a reduction in the frequency of extreme cold events along the Florida coastline. Credit: Kyle C. Cavanaugh Over the past several decades, Florida’s coastal wetlands have been changing. Along the eastern shore, researchers have seen small mangrove trees appearing in areas further north than they usually occur, in places that historically have been salt marsh. So why are these mangrove...Read more
A dive safety officer keeps a close eye on divers from the surface.

Diving in the Middle of Nowhere

The dive safety officer, Christian McDonald, keeping a watchful eye on divers at the surface. Credit: Rob Edwards Picture this: clear, warm water bathing spectacular coral reefs , clouds of fish, circling sharks, and 17 scientists intent on studying the pristine tropical marine ecosystems of the Southern Line Islands . What could go wrong? That these ecosystems are, at best, nearly two days' transit from modern medical facilities—they sit roughly between Hawaii and Tahiti—may not weigh heavily on the minds of our scientists. But as the Diving Safety Officer for the Scripps Institution of...Read more