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 lose their teeth? Actually, mysticetes still retain the genetic programming for teeth because they have tooth buds while embryos. More precisely, we would say that mysticetes lack the adult,...
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 they are a rare sight. Coral reef biologist Alan Friedlander from the University of Hawaii told me that he can’t remember the last time he saw a shark in the Caribbean—and he’s...
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 whether the ecosystem is out of the red – it’s only been two years, after all! – but many researchers have been shocked at the ecosystem’s recovery. “Like everybody else, I had visions of just gobs and gobs of oil smothering...
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 launching buoys with the Adopt a Drifter Program . Students at six U.S. locations are teaming up with international student...
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...
Tags: Ocean Portal
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 have been previously found in late Miocene deposits in Baja California, Mexico, the early Pliocene of Belgium and the eastern coast of North America. Now, in this month’s issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology , Nick Pyenson and I describe a new species of fossil monodontid from early Pliocene deposits (around 3-4...
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 species living together at one time. This oddity hinted that seacows’ environment and food sources were different than what we see today. Inspired by this finding, a group of paleontologists including Drs. Daryl Domning , Nick...
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...
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. CREDIT: Flickr User nickel.media BIOLUMINESCENCE, THE BASICS Bioluminescence is a natural chemical process that produces light within the cells of an organism. The light produced is typically blue, though there are a few species that produce red light . While rare on land, bioluminescence is...
“It is strange to think of a sea turtle as an ecosystem,” says Amanda Feuerstein, program coordinator and research assistant at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, “but they are…they have all of these other animals living on their skin and shells.” Feuerstein is co-author of a recent survey documenting the crustaceans, mollusks, algae, and other marine organisms that make a home on the bodies of olive ridley and green sea turtles living in the Pacific. For three years—2001, 2002, and 2008—on Teopa Beach in Jalisco, Mexico , Feuerstein and colleagues examined the shell, neck...