The Ocean Blog

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
A nudibranch showing a closeup of their fleshy, tentacle-like growths, called cerata.

How Sea Slugs Steal the Defenses of Their Prey

Many tentacle-like outgrowths, called cerata (singular: ceras), project off the back of this aeolid nudibranch. After the nudibranch eats the tentacles of a jellyfish, anemone, coral, or other stinging animal, the stolen stinging cells pass through the digestive gland, which is the grey section in each ceras. They wind up in the orange cnidosacs, where they are stored until they are needed for defense. Credit: Jessica Goodheart Not all slugs (snails without shells) are slimy brown pests found in your backyard garden. In the ocean they come in a huge variety of colors — some match the...Read more

Coralline Algae: The Unsung Architects of Coral Reefs

Many species of pink coralline algae, which cements coral reefs together, cover a reef surface in the Southern Line Islands. Credit: Maggie D. Johnson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Stare at a tide pool and you will often see a crust of pink coating the bottom. No, this is not bubblegum from some careless teenager’s shoe: it’s a stony kind of seaweed that, like other seaweeds, harnesses energy from the sun through photosynthesis. It may not look like the kelps and other leafy seaweeds that we usually think of—but seaweeds, which are a type of algae, come in a wide variety of colors,...Read more

Diving into the Sandstorm

A dredge from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can be seen removing a sandbar off of Virginia Beach, VA. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Flickr Diving can be a wild ride that evokes more than a little trepidation, especially in the Pacific Ocean's famously big, cold waves. Waves that are otherwise fun for my weekend surfing can turn a scientific dive into a serious challenge. But then, diving to support the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can be full of surprises. At a seafloor survey site at the mouth of the Chetco River off the Oregon coast, waves transmit so much...Read more

Watching for Fish in the Puffin's Beak

Atlantic puffins have spiny tongues that, pressed against the roof of their mouths, help to hold ten or more small forage fish at once without losing any along the way. Credit: Steve Garvie, <a href=" http://www.flickr.com/photos/rainbirder/5411451261/in/set-72157624027611... In recent years, I have taken to watching flying fish along the Maine coast. Not the usual flying fish that skim over tropical seas, but fish dangling from the beaks of flying puffins. Puffins are famous for loading their colorful beaks with a dozen or more fish and winging home to feed their solitary, ravenous chick...Read more

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