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.

Ceremonial Rattles

Classic examples of Northwest Coast art, these rattles from British Columbia illustrate the sophisticated way of life salmon helped provide. They were used during shamanistic performances to cure sickness and combat...

Right Whale Baleen

A right whale opens its mouth wide, revealing huge plates of baleen hanging from its upper jaw. There are between 200 and 270 baleen plates on each side of a right whale's upper jaw. They work like a giant sieve to catch the...

Baleen Close Up

This may look like a mane of hair, but it’s actually baleen from a North Atlantic Right Whale. Although it looks soft and furry, dried baleen is quite stiff, which made it useful for creating structure in a number of...

Copepods: Right Whale Food

This magnified photo provides a close-up look at copepods—tiny crustaceans that right whales feed on. There are many species of copepods that live throughout the water column, from floating at the surface to buried at the...

Dining - Right Whale Style

Right whales may be huge, but their food is surprisingly tiny. They eat mainly copepods, tiny crustaceans like those shown here. Each copepod is only about the size of a grain of rice! As you can imagine, it takes a lot of copepods to feed a hungry whale. But whale-sized mouthfuls add up quickly. Scientists estimate that, on average, right whales swallow about 58 kilograms (128 pounds) of copepods an hour. Some have been known to feed for up to 18 hours a day.

Whale Lice

This close-up photo of a right whale's head shows dozens of hitchhikers—tiny crustaceans known as whale lice, or cyamid amphipods. They live on the rough patches of skin (known as callosities) on North Atlantic right whales...

Cutting Down the Tree

Jacqueline (Johnson) Peta, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and member of Sealaska Corporation’s board of directors, sprinkles goose down on a traditional blanket at a tree-cutting ceremony for...

The Whale Family Tree

This family tree shows how the ancestors of whales moved gradually from land to sea. Early whales took advantage of abundant marine resources, feeding on the ocean's fish, squid and other larger food. Baleen whales evolved...

Raven Watches the Carver

As Chilton prepared the cedar for carving, he noticed a raven with an injured wing watching. Later, as he carved the canoe in Juneau, he again noticed a raven with an injured wing looking on. He believes it was the same bird...

Raven Keeps Watch over Carver

Sometimes the “Watcher,” a raven with an irregular wing, monitored carver Douglas Chilton’s progress on the canoe from an overhead perch. More about raven spirit can be found in our Raven Spirit featured story .

North Atlantic Right Whale Territory

North Atlantic right whales migrate seasonally between calving and feeding grounds along the eastern coast of the United States. Most North Atlantic right whales go south for the winter, to the shallow coastal waters off the...

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