The Ocean Through Time

Life began in the ocean around 3.5 billion years ago and as evolution progressed, many species went extinct -- and some left behind fossils -- as others appeared. And even now, the ocean hasn't stopped changing as evolution continues and humans leave their mark.



Did Whale Evolution Go Backwards?

Whales swim, but their ancestors walked. Whales are mammals (like us) whose ancestors lived on land. Life probably began in...

Evolution of Whales Animation

Whales have existed for million of years. Watch this animation, from the Sant Ocean Hall , to see how they evolved from land-dwellers to the animals we know today. Discover more about whale evolution...

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,...
Color illustration of an ancient bivalve.

Rudist Reefs

About 100 million years ago, during the heyday of the dinosaurs , reefs were built by mollusks called rudist clams . They looked very different from today's coral reefs . Discover more about the...
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...
This new species of lobster (Dinochelus ausubeli) is blind and has bizarre claws. It was discovered about 300 meters (984 feet) deep in the Philippine Sea by a Census of Marine Life expedition.

Deep Ocean Diversity Slideshow

Deep sea animals have to live in a very cold, dark, and high-pressure environment where they can't see a thing! To survive there, they've evolved some very strange adapations. Some make their own light,...
Photograph of the model of a Giant Megatooth Shark, taken from the front..

Shark Ancestors

Long before great white sharks appeared, much larger ancestors roamed the ocean. This giant ancient shark -- the Giant Megatooth ( Carcharodon megalodon ) -- was probably big enough to eat a whale.


Microscopic, single-celled organisms called foraminifera have a fossil record that extends from today to more than 500 million years ago. Although each foram is just a single cell, they build complex shells around themselves...

Foraminifera on the Seafloor

Dr. Karen Bice studies the foraminifera in ocean sediment to better understand climate change. More about scientists studying world climate change can be found in our Climate Change featured story .

Dr. Jan Backman, Marine Geologist

Drilling near the North Pole, Dr. Jan Backman reveals a brief moment in time when the Arctic was subtropical. More about world climate change can be found in our Climate Change featured story .

Smithsonian Paleobiologist Brian Huber

Brian Huber studies fossil organisms known as “ forams ” to learn about climate change in this video snippet from the Smithsonian Marine Collections video . More about world climate change can be found...

Receding Ice Cover

See an animation showing over time, the receding of summer sea ice in the Arctic .

The Last Wild Places In the Ocean Webcast

The ocean is not as natural as it once was. Where there used to be large predators that we took for sea monsters, now there are tiny fish and jellyfish. But there are a...
Smithsonian Scientists Dig a Trench Around a squalodontid Skull

Expedition to Excavate a Fossil Whale

The first thing the researchers did when they arrived on site was outline the general excavation area and take careful measurements of exposed fossils. Next, they applied acrylic glue to any exposed bone to...
Smithsonian researchers eat a meal in preparation for a fossil excavation

A Squalodontid Success

On a beach in Piña, Panama the tide is rolling out. Faint outlines of skeletal remains rise above the sand. Smithsonian scientists Nicholas Pyenson and Aaron O'Dea along with a team of students descend...

Excavating an Extinct Toothed Whale

A time-lapse video shows researchers from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute racing to excavate the fossil of an extinct toothed whale on a beach in Piña, Panama...
Smithsonian scientists race the tide the excavate an ancient whale fossil entombed in rock

Fossil Whale Found, Excavated, Jacketed, and Returned to STRI!

A time-lapse video of the excavation of an extinct toothed whale on a Panamanian beach. Jorge and I packed up the night we arrived in Panama with Aaron O'Dea and his team from STRI...

Submersible Collects Deep-Sea Corals

Come along as scientist Dr. Brendan Roark narrates a submersible dive to collect and study deep-sea corals. Roark studies deep-sea corals to understand the history of the ocean and past ocean climates. Learn more...

Video of the Palauan primitive cave eel (Protanguilla palau)

A video of the Palauan primitive cave eel ( Protanguilla palau ) swimming in the Pacific off the Republic of Palau . Jiro Sakaue, a Japanese research diver, first discovered the new genus and...