The Ocean Blog

From Despair to Repair: Protecting Parrotfish Can Help Bring Back Caribbean Coral Reefs

Sit down with two veteran marine scientists, Dr. Nancy Knowlton and Dr. Jeremy Jackson, who fell in love with each other and the reefs of the Caribbean 40 years ago. Those reefs are now gone due to overfishing, pollution and overpopulation. But is there hope for reversing the trend? Reef biologists over a certain age are haunted by memories of what glorious places Caribbean reefs once were. In our youth we studied them for all sorts of reasons but scarcely thought about reef conservation. We took the reefs for granted. Today, however, we know that most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear in...Read more
A diver collects water samples.

Ocean Sampling Day – Taking the Pulse of the World’s Oceans

Smithsonian scientist Chris Meyer is collecting water samples as part of the Pilot Ocean Sampling Day in 2013 on Moorea, French Polynesia. Credit: Gustav Paulay If you are a bird watcher you have probably heard of the Christmas Bird Count. The first one occurred on Christmas Day in 1900 at a variety of locations throughout North America, and it has since expanded to become the largest citizen science project in the world. Teams of volunteers go out and compile lists of all the birds spotted within a 15-mile (24 km) circle in many different places. The project has proven invaluable for keeping...Read more
Small foram shells in seafloor sediment.

Little Critters that tell a BIG Story: Benthic Foraminifera and the Gulf Oil Spill

You are not alone if you don’t know what forams (short for foraminifera) are, so let’s start with the basics. Simply put, forams are single-celled organisms related to the familiar amoeba that produce a hard shell. These shells look like the shells you might pick up on the beach, but they are much smaller—most are between 0.05 and 0.5 mm (about the size of a pencil tip). Forams are important organisms in their own right. They eat decomposing plants and animals, turning them into useful minerals. Forams are also a source of food for many worms, crustaceans, snails, echinoderms (like sea...Read more

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

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