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March of the Penguins

Emperor penguins are some of the most striking and charismatic animals on Earth, but a new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has found that a warming climate may render them extinct by the end of this century. The study, which was part of an international collaboration between scientists, published Nov. 7, 2019, in the journal Global Change Biology.

The fate of the penguins is largely tied to the fate of sea ice, which the animals use as a home base for breeding, feeding and molting, she notes. Emperor penguins tend to build their colonies on ice with extremely specific conditions—it must be locked into the shoreline of the Antarctic continent, but close enough to open seawater to give the birds access to food for themselves and their young. As climate warms, however, that sea ice will gradually disappear, robbing the birds of their habitat, food sources, and ability to raise their chicks.

Jenouvrier and her team conducted the study by combining two existing computer models. The first, a global climate model created by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), offered projections of where and when sea ice would form under different climate scenarios. The second, a model of the penguin population itself, calculated how colonies might react to changes in that ice habitat.

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Whale Blow Microbiome

Researchers from WHOI, NOAA Fisheries Southwest Science Center, SR3 Sealife, and the Vancouver Aquarium analyzed whale blow samples collected via drone to identify a core group of bacteria in the respiratory tract of healthy whales.

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Whale Biopsy Collection

A team gathers skin samples from healthy humpback whales in waters off the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Researchers obtain samples by releasing a biopsy-collecting dart, which bounces off the whales’ skin and into the water. The team then retrieves the floating dart and brings it back to a lab for analysis.

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Girls in Science Program: bioacoustics

August 2019: Woods Hole Sea Grant has teamed up with Earthwatch Institute on the Girls in Science Fellowship. This fellowship aims to promote diversity and expose young women to a variety of marine careers in STEM. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Research Specialist Laela Sayigh is the principal investigator working with the fellows analyzing marine mammal bioacoustics data.

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Why is the Greenland Ice Sheet melting faster than ever?

Senior scientist Claudia Cenedese has been studying how glaciers melt for the last 15 years in her fluids laboratory. In 2018 she was a principal investigator on a research cruise in Greenland for the first time. She wants to understand why the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting faster than ever and what happens to the fresh water released into the ocean.

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Tagging Sharks to Study the Twilight Zone

Former WHOI Joint Program graduate student and current University of Washington postdoc Camrin Braun and his team on the charter fishing vessel Machaca managed to tag two porbeagles, a relative of the goblin shark, about 30 miles east of Chatham, Mass. One was a female nearly seven feet long and weighing 270 pounds. A male came alongside the boat while the team was tagging her and, when they were finished, they quickly hooked the curious male, which measured 6.5 feet and weighed 230 pounds.

Both fish are now equipped with fin-mounted SPOT satellite tags, which will report their location each time they surface and can last up to five years. For the Ocean Twilight Zone team, the big predators are an important indicator of where mesopelagic animals are collecting deep below the surface. In short, the predator will go where the prey is.

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Life at the Edge (video series)

Watch this two-part series following a group of scientists as they explore what makes the shelf break front such a productive and diverse part of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. 

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Holiday Dive


Happily working through the holidays: Alvin, shown here at the vent site more than 2000 meters (1.25 miles) below the surface being piloted by Alvin program manager Bruce Strickrott.

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A pop of red in the twilight zone

This bejeweled beauty is a strawberry squid (Histioteuthis reversa), sampled from the ocean twilight zone, a mysterious stratum of the ocean between the sunlit surface layer and extending down to about 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) deep.

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An icebreaker pauses

WHOI senior engineer Jeff O’Brien offloads an ice-tethered profiler buoy and winch from the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, during the 2019 expedition (17th year) of WHOI’s Beaufort Gyre Expedition Exploration Project

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A tipping point

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are the largest species of penguin and one of the most charismatic animals on Earth. Their lifecycle is dependent on sea ice for breeding, feeding and […]

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Tremors of the deep sea

We can all imagine the devastation hurricanes bring ashore. Well it turns out that hurricanes could be just as devastating to denizens of the deep ocean.

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I spy a pilot whale

This spy-hopping adult female short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) was photographed offshore of Hawai‘i Island while checking out the Cascadia Research Collective field team during one of their field projects […]

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Sparring Partner

The crew and science team on R/V Neil Armstrong deployed newly designed, 60-foot spar buoy for sea trials about 100 miles south of Cape Cod last week.

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Nereid Under Ice explores Aurora hydrothermal vent field

nereid under ice vehicle

The newly upgraded Nereid Under Ice, a hybrid remotely operated vehicle, is deployed from the Norwegian Icebreaker KronPrins Haakon to conduct its first deep ocean dives to 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet) along the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean.

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Jellies of the Twilight Zone

Jellyfish have lived on earth more than 600 million years, and boast a diverse evolutionary history. Most jellyfish species live in the Twilight Zone. Little is known about this ocean region since it is vastly unexplored, but Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is on a mission to change that. With their new Mesobot, the institution plans to study the Twilight Zone and the creatures that call it home.

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Microplastics in the Ocean: Emergency or Exaggeration (event recording)

October 15, 2019 – Watch this recorded public event entitled Microplastics in the Ocean: Emergency of Exaggeration? with a keynote presentation by Dr. Kara Lavender Law on the science of ocean plastic pollution and laying the foundation for solutions.

Dr. Law is a faculty member at Sea Education Association, where she studies the distribution of plastic marine debris driven by ocean physics and the degradation and ultimate fate of plastics in the ocean.

Keynote presentation is followed by a panel discussion on the international perspectives on marine microplastics research moderated by Dr. Heather Goldstone, host of Living Lab, WCAI, Cape & Islands NPR. Panelists include:

Dr. Chelsea Rochman
University of Toronto, Canada

Dr. Hauke Kite-Powell
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S.A.

Dr. Gunnar Gerdts
Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany

Dr. Hideshige Takada
Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan

Dr. Collin Ward
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S.A.

Sponsored by the Elisabeth W. and Henry A. Morss, Jr., Colloquia Endowed Fund

Learn more about marine microplastics here:

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Mola mola parade

A formation of four mola mola (ocean sunfish) paraded through the water past the starboard side of #RVNeilArmstrong last week, while mooring operations continued on the Ocean Observatories Initiative Pioneer Array, 130 miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard. These giant omnivores are the largest bony fish (Osteichthyes) in the ocean, measuring up to 11 feet in height and weighing up to 2.5 tons. They get their common name from the fact that they can be sometimes be found turned sideways on the ocean surface basking in the sun. Leo Fitz, who has crewed on WHOI ships for decades said he’s never been so fortunate to see so many at once: ‘Never, it’s always one! Never THIS many!”

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New Eyes in the Twilight Zone

Members of WHOI’s Ocean Twilight Zone team, particularly the lab led by marine biologist Annette Govindarajan, are pioneering the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and analysis to provide a more finely tuned picture of what lives deep beneath the surface of the ocean.

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Lightning Deployment

The Sentry Team and deck crew on the research vessel Atlantis had to move quickly in order to launch the autonomous underwater vehicle between squalls off the West Coast recently.

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