The Ocean Blog

Why the Littlest Fish Matter a Whole Lot

A tornado of sardines swirls around diver and photographer Erwin Poliakoff in the Philippines. Credit: Erwin Poliakoff Top predators along the California coast are having a rough year. Recently starving sea lions have showed up on California beaches and are clamoring for fish at the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River ; tens of thousands of dead Cassin’s Auklets have washed up on shores from Alaska to California. Although we cannot say precisely why these animals are having such a hard time finding food, we can point to a problem with their food source, forage fish. What exactly are forage fish...Read more

SCUBAnauts Splitting The Sign

Participants in the challenge must first set a compass bearing in the direction they are headed to properly navigate underwater. Credit: Courtesy SCUBAnauts International I am a member of SCUBAnauts International , an organization for young people passionately interested in the ocean. Of all my experiences as a SCUBAnaut, sharing my love of the ocean with wounded veterans really stands out. As we come up to Memorial Day, I wanted to share what this has meant for me. It was the summer of 2012, and salt water cascaded into my mouth as I emerged above the water's surface. Sputtering for a few...Read more

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

Last Chance to See Your Photos Alongside Brian Skerry's at NMNH!

Brian Skerry is a world-renowned underwater photographer and journalist with decades of experience. He combines artistic vision and passion for the ocean with deep knowledge of photographic principles and specialized tools to create powerful and beautiful images. Some of his best photographs are now on display in the exhibit Portraits of Planet Ocean , open at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History through November 2015. But even people without decades of experience can capture a magical shot. That's why we've chosen to celebrate the work of amateur photographers by hanging their...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

Fishing for Plastic: Science in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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...Read more
Satellite view of Earth.

Earth Day, Spawned from the Sea

If the Earth is viewed from this side, uncommonly shown, it looks much more like a blue ocean planet than a green land-filled one. Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project 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...Read more

#GulfSpillFlashback: Giving the Gulf Oil Spill the Consideration It Deserves

Oil on the water’s surface in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Credit: Flickr User James Davidson (Creative Commons) 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...Read more

Let's Get Our Hands Dirty This Women's History Month

A view of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as seen from a NOAA research aircraft, June 2010. Credit: David Valentine, University of California Santa Barbara 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...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

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