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.

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two men each hold a ceramic vessel at the archaeological ex

Archaeologists Study Early Whaling Community in Quebec, Canada

For over a decade, Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center archaeologist, William Fitzhugh, has been investigating an early European whaling site at Hare Harbor in Québec, Canada . The site has revealed important contact and trading...
Offshore Peru, during the Eocene (~56-34 million years ago), showing two archaeocetes (ancient whales): Ocucajea picklingi and Supayacetus muizon.

New Archaeocetes from Peru Are the Oldest Fossil Whales from South America

Offshore Peru, during the Eocene (~56-34 million years ago), showing two archaeocetes (ancient whales): Ocucajea picklingi (above) and Supayacetus muizoni (below). Credit: Carl Buell, http://carlbuell.com The evolution of whales represents one of the great...
An artistic rendering of an ocean landscape as it may have looked during the Archean Eon.

The Ocean Throughout Geologic Time, An Image Gallery

Evidence shows that life probably began in the ocean at least 3.5 billion years ago. Photosynthesis began more than 2.5 billion years ago—the Great Oxidation Event. But it took hundreds of millions of years...
A photo of the cliffs at Mistaken Point, in Newfoundland

Ediacaran Fossils: One Species at a Time

When the cod fishery collapsed in Newfoundland in the early 1990s, the hopes of the local fish harvesters collapsed with it. Hundreds of Newfoundlanders moved away and businesses that depended on the cod fishery...
An illustration of multispecies communities of dugongs from India, Mexico and Florida

The Discovery of Multispecies Communities of Seacows

This reconstruction illustrates multispecies communities of seacows from three different time periods and ocean basins. Each seacow represents a different extinct species of dugong. Credit: Carl Buell/ http://carlbuell.com/ Sirenians , or seacows, are a...
Nick Pyenson points to a skull and skeleton of a fossil whale.

Excavating a "toothed" baleen whale from Vancouver Island

Nick Pyenson, the Smithsonian's curator of fossil marine mammals, points to the skull and skeleton of a 23-25 million year old fossil "toothed" mysticete whale. Credit: NDP and J. A. Goldbogen/SI The whales that...
A researcher holds an arm bone from a "toothed" mysticete whale from Vancouver Island.

Dispatches from the Field: Treacherous stream crossings and a new fossil find

Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, holds an arm bone from a "toothed" mysticete from Vancouver Island. Credit: J. A. Goldbogen Editor's note: Read Nick's...

Whale fossils on the mainland, and into a CT scanner

Gabor Szathmary secures one of the plaster jackets containing a fossil "toothed" mysticete that was excavated on Vancouver Island. After a few long days of hard work on the island, we were finally able...

Shark Teeth Tell Great White Shark Evolution Story

This fossil jaw of Carcharodon hubbelli , a possible great white shark ancestor, contains 222 teeth, some in rows up to six teeth deep. Credit: Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History For the last...

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,...
A rendering of an underwater marine scene from the Cambrian Period, featuring an arthropod, annelids, and other animals.

A Collection of Cambrian Fossils

When you're standing in a museum surrounded by fossils, you can almost imagine drifting through time to when long-extinct creatures swam the ocean. Found all over the world, these fossils can be read by...
Fossil Whale Digsite at Cerro Ballena, Chile

The Whale Graveyard Whodunit

Chilean and Smithsonian paleontologists study several fossil whale skeletons at Cerro Ballena, next to the Pan-American Highway in Atacama Region, Chile, in 2011. Credit: Adam Metallo / Smithsonian Institution One of the ocean's tiniest...

Charles Darwin's Ocean Upwelling

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System consists of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, and several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. The system's seven sites illustrate...

When Did Today’s Whales Get So Big?

More recently than you might think, say scientists who scoured the fossil record Two skulls belonging to extinct marine mammal herbivores used in the new study, both from the Smithsonian’s collections. Credit: A. Boersma...
Common cuttlefish

So You Think You're Smarter Than a Cephalopod?

Like other cephalopods, the common cuttlefish ( Sepia officials Linnaeus, 1758) possesses serious brain power. Credit: Hans Hillewaert, WoRMS for SMEBD The blanket octopus can rip a poisonous tentacle from a Portuguese man-o-war and...

Coral Reefs Changing Over Time

How do we know what coral reefs looked like hundreds of years ago? Often times, we are simply left wondering. Scientists can get an idea from naturalist recordings, but there are many unknowns and...

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 the ocean and then evolved to colonize the land. Yet the whale’s ancestors gradually...

Top Predators Timeline

What makes a top predator? Razor-sharp teeth? Speed? Strength? Size? Who is the most fearsome hunter? It depends on where and when you look.

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