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...
Ever collected something a bit strange? Snow globes, pens, stamps and coins are fairly typical, but museum collections can have some odd groups. Like hundreds of whale earwax plugs. Yes, that’s right: whale earwax. All cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) produce earwax, just like humans. In some species of baleen whales and in sperm whales, whale earwax can build up in layers over time to form an “earplug” that sits in the ear canal. You might be thinking that all that wax might negatively impact their hearing, but it actually works as a built-in hearing aid. The density of the earwax...
Tags: Senses, Whales
Vibrantly colored corals, with small fish darting about and sharks looking for their next meal. This vision of a healthy coral reef can very quickly be replaced by a lonely white landscape of dead and dying corals. When water gets too hot (usually 2°F/1°C above the normal maximum temperature), the relationship between corals and the tiny algae that live within corals breaks down. Without their algae, the corals lose their color, hence the name coral bleaching . This is a problem because the algae provide food to their coral hosts. The corals will eventually die if temperatures stay too hot...
Invasive species are often in the news these days, with human-transported organisms popping up in unexpected places. But in this era of climate change, there is a whole new kind of invasive species, those that are taking advantage of changing conditions to expand into areas not previously occupied. Some species may even be returning to a part of the world that they used to occupy, and haven’t seen in hundreds or thousands of years. As a result, we are watching ecological transformations unfurl before our eyes. We know that the climate of the Earth is changing— the average temperature and...
People flock to the California Coast in the summer—some to cool down in hot weather, some in search of good waves, some to fish in the surf and some to photograph any of the 1,200 miles of inspiring coastline. In spring 2015, I happened to be doing the latter. The hour before sunset typically creates the most dramatic light along the Pacific Coast and draws photographers like myself to the shore in a mass migration. Another migration was also taking place just off shore. It was late spring and large numbers of striped bass were swimming out of the San Francisco Bay estuary into the Pacific...
The Ocean Portal was lucky enough to join the Deep Reef Observation Project team in Curaçao where they explore deef reefs in a manned submersible (the Curasub ). Recently, talk in a variety of places has questioned whether scientists should study the deep sea by traveling there themselves in manned submersibles, or if robots should lead the charge instead. We talked to Carole Baldwin, the principal investigator of the Deep Reef Observation Project, about why manned submersibles are so important for exploring the deep ocean. Here's her response: "Manned submersibles allow the scientists to get...
It was a hot and sunny day, with barely a whiff of breeze. I boarded a boat in Oban, on the coast of Scotland, and headed west past the Isle of Mull and into the North Atlantic. It was July 2014, and I was in search of some imagery for a book I was writing on freediving photography. I was seeking basking sharks. These are commonly seen off the British coast during the summer and are a great subject for the freediving or snorkeling photographer because they spend much of their time near the surface, filtering small plants and animals out of the water for meals. On that day, we were blessed...