In the freezing waters of the Arctic a toothed leviathan – the Greenland shark - claims an impressive feat. It now holds the record for longest documented lifespan of any vertebrate. The new discovery points to an age of roughly 400 years, meaning that some sharks swimming in today’s Arctic ocean may have shared the waters with explorers like Henry Hudson as he searched for the elusive Northwest Passage in the early 1600s. Little is known about Greenland sharks, and even shark specialists see them as creatures of mystery . Perhaps it is their seemingly sluggish nature that has let them avoid...
In the seagrass beds and kelp forests of the Oligocene-Miocene transition, nearly 32.5 to 10.5 million years ago, a four-legged, gnarly-toothed mammal roamed the Northern Pacific shores of what is now Japan, Canada and the United States. This mammal, part of the order Desmostylia, straddled the marine and terrestrial environments much like seals and sea lions of today, but with feet instead of flippers. The Desmostylia are the only order of marine mammals to entirely go extinct, and a new paper published in Biology Letters provides evidence that competition with other kelp-grazing mammals may...
Until very recently oceanography was a field dominated by men. A seafaring career, oceanography was still influenced by the superstitions of ship life; a woman on board was considered to bring bad luck. It may come as a surprise then, that one of the most influential oceanographic cartographers (mapmakers) of the 20th century was a woman, and she achieved such status without even stepping foot on a boat. Marie Tharp is credited with producing one of the world’s first comprehensive maps of the ocean floor. She and research partner Bruce Heezen transformed a once barren and flat landscape into...
Pokémon Go came out in the United States last week and it’s safe to say that the gaming community is collectively losing its mind. Already boasting an estimated 7.5 million downloads as of Monday, 6 days after the release, the Nintendo-owned franchise is making a raging comeback. The game uses your smartphone’s GPS to locate virtual Pokémon in your vicinity allowing the player to both see and “capture” Pokémon à la augmented reality through your phone’s camera. Still confused? Check out this explainer. Pokémon mania has rekindled some serious nostalgia at the Ocean Portal so we decided to...
Strapped in to a harness on the back deck of a 230-foot research vessel off the coast of Antarctica , I take a moment to take in my surroundings. For as far as the eye can see bleached white ice floes jigsaw the open ocean, save for a distinct, unnatural channel our icebreaking hull has masterfully carved. The occasional lazy crabeater seal nods its head in acknowledgement as it drifts by atop one of the ice floes and a few Adélie penguins flit across the water between the large tiles of ice. For a second I am at peace. But the whine of a winch and a holler from my coworker brings me back to...
Upon entering the Smithsonian’s National Zoo this summer, visitors can expect a bright greeting from a larger-than-life Priscilla the Parrotfish. Priscilla is a mosaic of every color in the rainbow, but upon further inspection her scales reveal a darker story. In “I-Spy” fashion you can find discarded sand shovels, cigarette lighters, combs, soda bottle caps, mouth guards, and a toothbrush. Priscilla is one of 17 sculptures at the Zoo created and adorned completely by human trash that has been collected off beaches in the Pacific Northwest. Her creators at the Washed Ashore Project hope to...
Whether it’s the stock market or a vibrant coral reef , it usually pays to hedge your bets. Similar to how diversifying your stock holdings minimizes the risk of a catastrophic financial loss, biodiversity minimizes the risk of damage to ecosystems in the wake of disturbances. With lots of species present, if one suffers or is lost altogether, another can more easily take its place. Scientists call this the portfolio effect. Recently, a new study from the Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network examined the role of diversity in detail, using Reef Life Survey ’s global database of 4,556...
April 20th marks the sixth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill , the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The infamous blowout lasted 87 days and leaked an estimated 160 million gallons of oil. Since then, scientists have been tirelessly analyzing its impact, gaining greater insight year by year into the lasting effects of toxic oil and the use of dispersants as a tool to help clean up. Dispatches From the Gulf , a new episode in the “Journey to Planet Earth Series”, takes a hard look at what we know today and where the health of the Gulf is headed. Narrated and hosted...
You may not have realized it, but you’ve been acquainted with Mary Anning since you were young. “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.” Remember this grade school tongue-twister? What you probably didn’t know is that this nursery rhyme is based on a real person who not only sold seaside curiosities by the seashore, but became world renowned for her fossil discoveries. Caption: Portrait of Mary Anning, before 1842. Oil painting by unknown artist. Courtesy of The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. Mary Anning (1799-1847) was one of the best known paleontologists of her time. Born...
Sharing is something that is encouraged from the beginning of our lives, whether it be toys with our friends and siblings or “show and tell” at school. But as we grow up, sharing can suffer from the pressures of competition with our peers. Scientists, for example, sometimes worry that sharing information will result in their being scooped on an important discovery. Generally though, when it comes to scientific data, sharing is best for the greater good. In the past, data would often sit on a computer, maybe backed up in a larger storage center at a university or nonprofit. But wouldn’t it be...