The Ocean Blog

The Smithsonian's Sant Ocean Hall

Celebrating the Ocean With New Museum Exhibits

The Sant Ocean Hall is the National Museum of Natural History's largest exhibit, providing visitors with a unique and breathtaking introduction to the majesty of the ocean Credit: Flickr User M.V. Jantzen A lot can happen in five years. Since 2007, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has continued to go up, reaching a concentration of 400 parts per million, and with it Arctic sea ice has continued to melt, reaching a record low in 2012. On a more positive note, more than five million square kilometers of ocean have been designated as shark sanctuaries over the same interval...Read more
Brian Skerry sits on a 20 foot high underwater tripod to photograph the Aquarius Habitat off Florida.

Portraits of Planet Ocean – Behind The Photographs

Brian Skerry sits on a 20 foot high underwater tripod to photograph the Aquarius Habitat off Florida. Credit: Copyright © Mark Conlin Editor's Note: These images and more can be seen at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., as a part of the larger exhibit " Portraits of Planet Ocean: The Photography of Brian Skerry " opening on September 17, 2013. Two additional ocean exhibits are also opening: "Fragile Beauty: The Art & Science of Sea Butterflies," which shares the story of how ocean acidification is affecting sea butterflies , and the "Living on an Ocean...Read more

The Design of a Beautiful Weapon

Video of Claws Out: Fiddler Crabs Do Battle This summer, many of you have likely enjoyed feasting on crabs, be they blue, stone, or Dungeness, and a special treat will have been the big, easy morsels of claw meat. The size of this muscle is testament to its role in applying a forceful pinch to prey, predator, or competitor. But many crabs also use their lovely long claws to attract females—a function that does not depend on the power of the pinch. So which of these two uses was more important in driving the claw's evolution: its beauty or its strength? Female fiddler crabs have two small...Read more
Great Shearwater in Flight

12,000 Miles to Go: Migrating with Shearwaters

Oceanic birds are a rare treat to see because these birds are not casual visitors to our coastline—to see them you normally have to get on a boat. So late last spring I was amazed to find hundreds of shearwaters stranded on the beach along the Atlantic coast of Florida. Shearwaters are oceanic birds related to albatrosses that spend most of their lives at sea, normally coming to land only to breed. In talking with locals, I learned that the strandings happen when strong winds blow out of the East. Weak from their long migrations, these birds had the bad luck to encounter strong winds as they...Read more

The “Plastisphere:" A new marine ecosystem

Tiny bits and pieces of plastic can be found throughout the ocean, like these collected from the open ocean by net. Credit: Courtesy of Erik Zettler Any floating object in the ocean tends to attract life; fishermen know this and deploy floating buoys to concentrate fish for harvesting. Plastic marine debris is no different and, at microscopic scales, microbes such as bacteria, algae and other single-celled organisms gather around and colonize plastic and other objects floating in water. Even small pieces of plastic marine debris the size of your pinky nail can act as microbe aggregating...Read more
Sunset over Boston Harbor

Signs of a Recovering Harbor

A sunset over Boston Harbor. Credit: Chesser1023 For more than two centuries, Boston Harbor has been a dumping ground. In 1773, colonists famously dumped shiploads of tea to protest taxes. But in recent decades, the harbor has received less tea and more sewage. In the 1970s, 43 communities sent their wastewater to Boston where it was barely treated before its release into the harbor. The harbor's pollution was so severe that local newspapers dubbed it “The Harbor of Shame” in the 1980s! But nowadays, after almost 25 years of intensive work by government and local organizations, sewage is no...Read more

Ribbon Worm Redux

The ribbon worm seen here, Ramphogordius sanguineus , is known to regenerate after losing a part of its body. Credit: Eduardo Zattara Even on an early winter morning, it was sunny and warm in southern Florida. This was great because, regardless of the weather, Dr. Jon Norenburg and I were going to walk chest-deep into the water to scrape off animals encrusting some pier pilings near Miami Beach. Composed mostly of barnacles, sponges and sea squirts, this crust also harbors our quarry: intertidal ribbon worms , or nemerteans. We were looking for them to study their ability to regenerate...Read more

Helpful Herbivores

Convict surgeonfish are the roaming sheep of the reef but, instead of noshing on grass, they feed on algae. Credit: Michael Webster When snorkeling in the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area (KHFMA) in West Maui, I keep an eye out for certain kinds of fish. Not the brightest or the biggest, but those herbivores such as uhu (parrotfish), lau'ipala (yellow tang), or na'ena'e (orangeband surgeonfish) that mow algae. These fish can tell me whether a unique experiment in coral reef management that has the potential to restore ecological resilience —the ability for an ecosystem to rebound...Read more

Celebrating World Oceans Day

The ocean plays an important role in our everyday lives—whether you live near the coast or not. Credit: Dennis Frates/Nature's Best Photography Those of us who can't see the ocean from our window might feel disconnected from the life there. It might seem that, because the ocean feels far away, its problems will only harm those people that fish or make their living directly from the sea. But this isn’t true: the sea is far more important than that. It's easy to forget the critical role the ocean plays in human life. The salty water of the ocean covers more than 70 percent of the Earth's...Read more