Smithsonian Institution

Welcome to the Ocean Portal. We focus on everything ocean – unusual and everyday organisms, ocean-inspired art, researchers devoting their lives to exploring the still mostly mysterious ecosystem. We here at the Ocean Portal learn something new everyday and we want to share it with you! 

The Ocean Portal is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Initiative. Together with the National Museum of Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall and the Sant Marine Science Chair, the Ocean Portal supports the Smithsonian’s mission to increase the public’s understanding and stewardship of the Ocean.

Baleen: From Whales to People

For being so big, right whales eat very small food, which they catch using baleen. Baleen is the series of fringed plates hanging in right whales' mouths that are used to strain seawater for food. Until the early 1900's,...

Octopod on Submersible Arm

A deep-sea octopus wraps itself around a submersible’s robotic arm 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) down in the Gulf of Mexico. "Most octopuses will let you get close, maybe even touch them, but normally they'll try to run once the...

Zones of the Open Ocean

Oceanographers divide the ocean into three broad zones. Together, they could hide 20 Washington Monuments stacked on top of each other. Each zone has a different mix of species adapted to its light levels, pressures, and...

Ocean Layers

Like a cake, the ocean has different layers—each with its own characteristics. (No icing, though.) The surface layer receives the most sunlight, allowing photosynthetic organisms like phytoplankton to convert sunlight to...

Spiral Track on Ocean Floor

It took a while for scientists to identify what made this spiral track. At first they had only glimpses of the track-maker from fuzzy photographs. Finally, after studying a specimen and clearer images, scientists determined...

Deep-Sea Worms

These deep-sea photographs show a variety of broad-collared enteropneusts or acorn worms . These wormlike animals make spiral tracks on the sea floor. All the species shown here are new to science, and most have not yet been...

Deep-Sea Urchin

This deep-sea urchin ( Echinocrepis rostrata ) is an important “bulldozer.” It turns over sediment and exposes prey as it moves across the ocean floor, leaving a trail of tracks behind. This photo was taken about 220...

Fish Using Counterillumination

The fish at left stands out against the lighter waters above. At right the same fish—now with bioluminescent structures on its underside lit—blends in. Many deep sea creatures have evolved this adaptation (known as...

Bowl Glazed with Deep Ocean Sediments

Massachusetts ceramics artist Joan Lederman glazes her work —including this bowl—with deep sea sediments. Some contain tiny single-celled organisms called foraminifera. Lederman has noticed that sediments with foraminifera...

Deep Sea Drilling Vessel Chikyu

This Japanese research ship Chikyu drills into the ocean floor to learn about Earth’s history and structure, and the mechanism of earthquakes in particular. Completed in 2005, it is the first scientific research ship that...

Bigfin Squid

A specimen from the Smithsonian’s squid collection and videos of a mystery squid helped scientists identify a new family of deep sea squid—the Magnapinnidae, known as the bigfin squids. More about deep ocean exploration can...

Bigfin Squid Specimen

In 1954 Smithsonian researchers dissected this squid specimen from the stomach of a lancetfish and added it to the Museum’s squid collection. Almost 50 years later, it helped scientists identify a strange, mysterious squid...

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