The Ocean Blog

A researcher holds an arm bone from a "toothed" mysticete whale from Vancouver Island.

Dispatches from the Field: Treacherous stream crossings and a new fossil find

Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, holds an arm bone from a "toothed" mysticete from Vancouver Island. Credit: J. A. Goldbogen Editor's note: Read Nick's first blog post about "toothed" baleen whales to see what their team is excavating on Vancouver Island. We departed from Port Renfrew on Tuesday morning on the Michelle Diana, a boat chartered specifically for our expedition. An hour later we approached Carmanah Point, a tall cliff upon which the Carmanah lighthouse sits (built in 1891). We made the treacherous boat-shore...Read more
Nick Pyenson points to a skull and skeleton of a fossil whale.

Excavating a "toothed" baleen whale from Vancouver Island

Nick Pyenson, the Smithsonian's curator of fossil marine mammals, points to the skull and skeleton of a 23-25 million year old fossil "toothed" mysticete whale. Credit: NDP and J. A. Goldbogen/SI The whales that we see in today's world can broadly be split into two groups: those with teeth (odontocetes), and those that have baleen (mysticetes) instead of teeth. These two groups share a common ancestor in the Eocene, which had teeth (They looked a lot like the ancient whale skeletons in the Sant Ocean Hall). This insight leads to a question: When, in their evolutionary history , did mysticetes...Read more

Reef Sharks Repelled by People

Large numbers of grey reef sharks were observed at Jarvis Island, an uninhabited Pacific island, during the 2010 Pacific RAMP expedition of the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai . Credit: NOAA Reef sharks rarely get any love. These sharks, comprising several species, loiter around coral reefs, snacking on small fish, squids and crustaceans. And while their size is nothing to smirk at—5-10 feet is pretty impressive in my book!—their relatively demure lifestyle just can’t compete with the seal-snatching airtime of the great white shark . However, another reason reef sharks receive less attention is that...Read more

The Oil Spill, Two Years Later

Mark Dodd, a wildlife biologist from Georgia's Department of Natural Resources, surveying oiled sargassum seaweed in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources Two years ago last week, on April 20, 2010, an explosion on the oil-drilling rig Deepwater Horizon caused the largest marine oil spill in history , gushing nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil over the course of three months. And, since then, researchers have been hard at work to understand how the oil spill impacted life in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s too soon to say...Read more
A student helps deploy one of his school's adopted drifters for NOAA's Adopt a Drifter Program.

Celebrate Earth Day by Thinking of the Ocean

NOAA Corps Captain John Adler shows a budding ocean scientist how to deploy his school's adopted drifter. Credit: NOAA The surface of the Earth is 71% water, so we should celebrate the ocean this Earth Day. This Earth Day on Sunday, April 22nd, think of what you can do on an everyday basis to help our Planet Ocean. The ocean provides us with so much - from beach weekends with family and friends to the regulation of our climate. Many organizations are hosting events this weekend for you to participate in and learn about ways to conserve our land and ocean. NOAA is celebrating Earth Day by...Read more
Screenshots of 'Amazing Ocean' Mobile App

Amazing Ocean: Explore from Your Mobile Device

Editor's note: Thank you for your interest in this app. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. Amazing Ocean is a brand new, free mobile app developed by the U.S. Department of State that features Smithsonian Ocean Portal and Sant Ocean Hall content. The app allows users to explore photos, videos, and rich ocean-themed content on their mobile devices. Amazing Ocean is a pilot project of the State Department/Smithsonian partnership and combines some of the best assets of both organizations: the unique and robust research and collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural...Read more
An illustration of a recently discovered species of Monodontid, Bohaskaia monodontoides, and its beluga and narwhale relatives

Smithsonian Scientists Describe a 'New' Fossil Whale

A reconstruction of a new fossil beluga relative, Bohaskaia monodontoides , described by Smithsonian scientists, is pictured in the foreground. Its living relatives, the beluga and narwhal, are illustrated left to right in the background. Coloration of the extinct whale is speculative. Credit: Carl Buell, http://carlbuell.com/ Monodontids, the group of whales that includes the belugas and narwhals swimming our ocean today, are emblematic symbols of the Arctic. However, their fossil record, although scarce, suggests that these animals' ranges could have been much broader. Fossil monodontids...Read more
An illustration of multispecies communities of dugongs from India, Mexico and Florida

The Discovery of Multispecies Communities of Seacows

This reconstruction illustrates multispecies communities of seacows from three different time periods and ocean basins. Each seacow represents a different extinct species of dugong. Credit: Carl Buell/ http://carlbuell.com/ Sirenians , or seacows, are a group of marine mammals that include manatees and dugongs. In the modern ocean, only one species of seacow is found in each world region, however, the fossil record tells a different story. According to the fossil record of these marine mammals, which dates back 50 million years ago, it was more common to find three, maybe more, different...Read more
A hermit crab looks out from its coral dwelling in the waters of Japan's Ogasawara Islands.

The Perfect Underwater Photo

There is of course, no such thing as the perfect photograph, as there is no perfect song, movie, or painting. Photography by its very nature is subjective and what appeals to one viewer may not interest another. There are photographic elements however, that have been proven to make images better, especially things like exposure and composition. Photos that are over- or under-exposed are generally not pleasing to the eye, and composition tends to be more interesting when artistic styles such as the rule of thirds are followed (placing a key subject off center within the frame at the place...Read more
A light painted image of a hand-painted ceramic fish with light emitting from its mouth

Using Light Painting to Teach Bioluminescence

Watch this short video tutorial to learn how to do light painting. Painting with light is a photographic technique that can be used in the classroom to help students understand bioluminescence. What does a bioluminescent creature that lives more than two miles below the surface of the ocean and a glow stick have in common? More than you think. In a unique spin on an art technique called "light painting," you can create your own bioluminescent organisms with glow sticks in your classroom or home. Using a photographic technique called light painting, this image captures light emitted from a...Read more

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