The Ocean Blog

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
A puffin with a mouthful of fish.

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, Flickr 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. In the late 19th century, spotting such overladen beaks was rare, as hunting for...Read more

How Hurricanes Shape Wetlands in Southern Louisiana

The grasses and animals living in marshes help to filter water and stabilize shorelines, along with providing habitat for a variety of mammals, fish, shellfish and amphibians and a haven for migratory waterfowl. Credit: Eve Cundiff, Flickr We all know that hurricanes can have destructive effects on human communities and infrastructure—but what about their effects on coastal wetlands? Until Hurricane Katrina, no one had ever mapped hurricane-caused land loss in Louisiana, where a staggering 90 percent of coastal wetland loss in the United State's contiguous 48 states occurs. The first study to...Read more

Ice-Loving Seals and the Loss of Sea Ice

In 2011, storms and lack of ice-cover due to a warmer winter climate resulted in hundreds of seal pups being washed up on the shore of Prince Edward Island. Like many, this young seal faced an uncertain future. <a href="/ocean-views-2012-contest-winners">See more Nature's Best Photos</a>. Credit: John Sylvester/Nature's Best Photography The threat that climate change poses to polar bears has received a lot of attention, but they are not the only Arctic species at risk. Ice-loving seals, such as harp, hooded and ringed seals, are among the many species threatened by climate change...Read more

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