The Ocean Blog

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

Worth the Investment: Ocean Real Estate Reveals Hidden Diversity

Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian's Sant Chair for Marine Science, puts out an Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS) during a dive in the Red Sea. Credit: Michael Berumen Good real estate is hard to find. This is as true underwater as it is on land. So when Smithsonian scientist Dr. Matthieu Leray built 18 potential homes for undersea creatures living on oyster reefs, they moved in fast. After just six months in the water, Dr. Leray counted more than 2,000 different types of organisms—most of them very small—living in his small underwater “condos,” which were placed in a variety of locations...Read more

Underwater Parks in 3-D

One of several rowboats that were sunk in front of Lake Hotel at Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park in the early 20th century. Credit: Yasmeen Smiley As I readied myself and my camera for a dive in Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, I thought I was on top of my game. I had recently specialized in underwater photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and had most photographic techniques figured out. I knew enough to wear several layers of thermals under my drysuit to withstand frigid water temperatures of 38° F. Yet I was in for a...Read more

How Oil Feeds the Deep Sea

Positioned in front of a natural oil seep, this video camera is capturing images of the black oil bubbling up from beneath the sea floor. A light mounted to the frame helps see what is happening in the dark on the sea floor. Credit: Deep Sea Systems/ Schmidt Ocean Institute There can be catastrophic results when a large amount of oil is spilled into the ocean—as when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But did you know that a little bit of oil in the ocean is actually necessary for many organisms to survive? In the deep sea, there is no light, so...Read more