Ocean Life & Ecosystems

From the tiny to the titanic, from the familiar to the undiscovered, the ocean offers a stunning diversity of marine life and nearly every kind of habitat imaginable. Dive in and explore them here.

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A squat lobster and blackbelly rosefish find shelter on a Lophelia pertusa coral reef off the southeastern United States.

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Deep-sea Corals

It may be the last place you’d expect to find corals—up to 6,000 m (20,000 ft) below the ocean’s surface, where the water is...
Map showing the range of the eastern and western populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna and their spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus)

This map is based on electronic tagging of Atlantic bluefin tuna from 1996 to 2007. Credit: Tag-A-Giant Foundation and Stanford University Buyers examine tuna lining the floor of Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan...

Killer Whale: Orca

Killer whales ( Orcinus orca ) are master hunters, using speed, camouflage, and a variety of techniques to capture their prey. See how a different predator - the great white shark - finds its...

Shark DNA Helps Catch Poachers

Dr. Mahmood Shivji explains how shark DNA is used as evidence to prosecute shark fin poachers . What is shark finning? Find out here .
Phoenix the right whale diving in North Atlantic.

A Tale of a Right Whale

Suspended at the center of the Sant Ocean Hall is a life-size model of a North Atlantic right whale named Phoenix. The result of four years of work, and collaboration between exhibit fabricators, whale...

The Moorea Biocode Project

Scientists on the tiny island of Moorea, in the Pacific, are gathering one of every life form large enough to pick up with tweezers. They're on a quest to build a detailed catalog of...
The Line Islands are one of the most remote places in the Pacific Ocean.

Expedition to the Line Islands

The Line Islands are one of the most remote places in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Remotely located in the central Pacific Ocean, south of Hawaii, the Line Islands provide a remarkable research...
These Smithsonian field stations enable scientists worldwide to conduct long-term studies on mangrove ecosystems.

Smithsonian Research Stations

These Smithsonian field stations enable scientists worldwide to conduct long-term studies on mangrove ecosystems. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Smithsonian scientists and their colleagues are investigating important questions and issues related to mangrove ecosystems. • At...
Japanese scientists videotaped this female giant squid, alive, at the water's surface

Giant Squid

Giant squid live up to their name: the largest giant squid ever recorded by scientists was almost 43 feet (13 meters) long, and may have weighed nearly a ton. You’d think such a huge...

Quest for the Giant Squid

Watch a Discovery video on Smithsonian squid expert Clyde Roper’s search for giant squid in Kaikoura Canyon off the coast of New Zealand. More about giant squid can be found in our Giant Squid...

The Whale Acoustic Lab

John Hildebrand discusses his research at the Scripps Whale Acoustic Lab on the FLIP platform. Learn more about how scientists are using bioacoustics to study and protect whales .

Visit the Line Islands with Reef Ecologist Dr. Stuart Sandin

A number of questions have inspired marine ecologist Stuart Sandin to head to the coral reefs of the Line Islands . Sandin works at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California,...

Phoenix the North Atlantic Right Whale Video

Researchers frequently track North Atlantic right whales from ships or from the air. This video of Phoenix (left) was captured in March 2009 on George’s Shoal, east of Chatham, Mass. Learn more about Phoenix...
Close-up photograph of translucent coral polyps, showing the symbiotic algae living inside.

Zooxanthellae and Coral Bleaching

Tiny plant-like organisms called zooxanthellae live in the tissues of many animals, including some corals , anemones, and jellyfish , sponges, flatworms, mollusks and foraminifera . These microscopic algae capture sunlight and convert it...
Illustration of a giant squid versus a merman.

From Mermen to Architeuthis, Our Fascination with the Giant Squid

Humans have long been captivated by what we now call the giant squid ( Architeuthis ). This image gallery gives a glimpe into our fascination with the animal. For a long time, people saw...
Colorful fishes throng a reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Bizarre and Beautiful Coral Reef Animals

From parrotfish that cover themselves in a blanket of their own mucus to tiny pygmy sea horses, there are some bizarre sea creatures that live in coral reefs . In this slideshow you can...
A rendering of an underwater marine scene depicting life ~145-65 million years ago, when rudist clams were the major reef builders.

Long Before Coral, Mollusks Built the Ocean's Reefs

Rudist clams were major reef builders during the heyday of dinosaurs. Credit: Smithsonian Institution About 100 million years ago , during the heyday of the dinosaurs, reefs were built by mollusks called rudist clams...
A variety of corals cling to Manning Seamount, just off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Seamounts, A Deep-Sea Habitat

Thousands of seamounts—most of them undersea volcanoes—tower above the muddy seafloor. They provide something hard to come by in the deep ocean : a solid surface to cling to. This photo gallery shows some...
Colorful corals and brittlestars on Manning Seamount off the New England coast.

Seamounts: Underwater Oases

Thousands of seamounts—most of them undersea volcanoes—tower above the muddy seafloor. They provide something hard to come by in the deep ocean: a solid surface to cling to. Corals, sponges, and other marine animals...

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