The Ocean Blog

An unidentified earplug from the National Museum of Natural History collection.

Whale Earwax: What You Can Learn From Strange Collections

An unidentified earplug from the National Museum of Natural History collection. The light and dark layers come from a build up of keratin and lipids and can be used to estimate whale age. Credit: Megan Chen, NMNH 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...Read more

Coral Under Pressure: Monitoring Bleaching In Real Time

A coral head in the Mesoamerican Reef has both bleached and living coral. The white sections are bleached and the brown parts still contain zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae that provide food to their coral hosts. Credit: Lorenzo Alvarez Filip 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...Read more

In the Arctic, the Times, They Are a-Changin: You Can Pitch in to Understand How

This 1874 illustration of California gray whales ( Eschrichtius robustus ) shows a group of individuals at the edge of their modern day range in the North Pacific Ocean, blocked from traveling further east into Arctic waters by thick ice barriers. Credit: Plate V from Scammon 1874 ‘California grays among the ice’ 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...Read more

Surf Fishing In a Golden State

"Surf Fishing In a Golden State" Credit: Michael Carl 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...Read more
A submersible explores the deep reefs off of Curacao in the Caribbean.

Keeping Exploration Alive With Manned Submersibles

Video of Why are manned submersibles important? Smithsonian research zoologist Carole Baldwin answers the question "why are manned submersibles important?" 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...Read more

Chasing a Basking Shark

"Ocean sunfish" by Mark Harris Credit: Mark Harris 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...Read more
An opah at the Honolulu Fish Auction with a printed label attached that includes an ID number, bar code, the date, the receiver's ID number, the cart number, species name, vessel name, and weight of the fish.

“Storied Fish”: Why Sustainable Seafood Requires A Tale

An opah at the Honolulu Fish Auction with a printed label attached that includes an ID number, bar code, the date, the receiver's ID number, the cart number, species name, vessel name, and weight of the fish. Credit: Crystal Sanders Imagine sitting down at your favorite sushi restaurant. Your server arrives, laying before you a perfectly wrapped dragon roll, which comes adorned with a small square of rice paper resting on top of the spicy mayo. Taking out your phone, you scan the code written delicately in soy-based ink upon the rice paper and immediately your phone displays a description of...Read more
Trout cages in 30 feet of water.

Aquaculture Comes Full Circle

Trout cages sit in 30 feet of water and are surrounded by ropes where mussels and sugar kelp grow, absorbing excess nutrients in the water. Credit: Rebecca Zeiber, N.H. Sea Grant Until recently we were farmers on land and hunter-gatherers at sea, but how we get our seafood is changing rapidly. With demands for seafood growing and catch from wild fisheries stagnating , aquaculture is an increasingly important player in maintaining seafood as a viable food source around the world. The global aquaculture industry has grown by leaps and bounds since 1980— up 8 percent every year through 2012 . In...Read more

Take a Virtual Submarine Dive to the Deep

You can explore the Curasub from your computer! Inspect, launch, board and recover to get an idea of what it's like to mann an underwater submersible. Credit: Courtesy of Curasub A manned submersible is the only way to immerse oneself in the deep sea firsthand. SCUBA equipment can’t safely take you beyond relatively shallow depths, and operating the cameras and high-tech arms of an unmanned submarine from the surface can't match the experience of dropping to the ocean's depths in the flesh. Not many people get the chance to travel this way. Even for scientists who have made multiple trips in...Read more
A school of akule (Hawaiian for bigeye scad) explode into a camera's frame.

Following the Akule

Credit: Wayne Levin While swimming off of the big island of Hawaii in Kealakekua Bay, I saw what first appeared to me as a coral head. As I approached I saw movement within the shape. To my surprise it was an enormous school of fish, tightly packed, and numbering in the tens of thousands. I dove down and took a few photos before continuing my swim. It turns out this giant group was made up of akule— Hawaiian for bigeye scad . Over the next year I would occasionally see a school of akule; I would take a few pictures, then be on my way looking for other subjects. But my fascination grew as I...Read more