The Ocean Blog

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

Rough Reputation: Are Invasive Species All Bad?

The vicious "killer shrimp." Credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory 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,...Read more
A diver clears the bottom of a cargo ship of specimens.

Unearthing Information About Invasives From the Bottom of a Cargo Ship

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) ecologist, Ian Davidson, is under the belly of a cargo ship collecting specimens. Credit: Laurie Penland, Smithsonian 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...Read more

Charles Darwin's Ocean Upwelling

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System consists of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, and several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. The system's seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development. Credit: Tony Rath 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...Read more
An albatross soars over the ocean.

Looking for Love? Online Dating Under the Sea

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...Read more

Have We Hit The Chicken Little Point In Ocean Conservation?

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...Read more

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