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Robotic Vehicles Offer a New Tool in Study of Shark Behavior

Robotic Vehicles Offer a New Tool in Study of Shark Behavior

The dramatic video footage of a great white shark attacking the “REMUS SharkCam” autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) brought some of the highest ratings to Discover Channel’s Shark Week 2014 and went viral on the Internet.  

But while the footage was unprecedented, the scientific understanding enabled by the REMUS SharkCam is just as groundbreaking.  The AUV was used during a science expedition in 2013 to better understand white shark behavior and represents the first successful efforts to autonomously track and image any animal in the marine environment. The research provides critical data to efforts to conserve these animals.

“We wanted to test the REMUS SharkCam technology to prove that is was a viable tool for observing marine animals – sharks in this case – and to collect substantial data about the animals’s behavior and habitat,” said WHOI engineer Amy Kukulya, one of REMUS SharkCam’s principal investigators.

The research results were recently published in the Journal of Fish Biology.  The paper’s lead author is Greg Skomal, a biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. In addition to Kukulya, co-authors include biologist E. M. Hoyos-Padilla of Pelagios-Kakunjá, a Mexican marine conservation organization, and WHOI engineer and REMUS SharkCam software developer Roger Stokey.  

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Amy Apprill Featured in Science’s Video Series

Amy Apprill Featured in Science's Video Series

Amy Apprill, a microbiologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), is one of the extraordinary women scientists featured in Science Magazine’s online video series, “XX Files: Extraordinary Science, Extraordinary Women.” The eight-part series, which highlights diverse projects led by a group of impressive female scientists, began in early October. The video featuring Apprill’s work, “The Humpback Microbiome,” debuts on December 15 and is the last in the special series.

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Galapagos Expedition Reveals Unknown Seamounts, New Species

Galapagos Expedition Reveals Unknown Seamounts, New Species

During a three-week expedition in August, an international team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), in partnership with the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galápagos Islands and in close collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate, conducted the first scientific expedition to map and characterize the seamounts on the Galápagos platform and the diverse marine life that these underwater mountains support.

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Drag from Fishing Gear Entanglements Quantified

In a paper published online Dec. 9, 2015, in Marine Mammal Science, a research team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), has for the first time quantified the amount of drag on entangled whales that is created by towing fishing gear, such as rope, buoys, and lobster and crab traps. The study provides important data for teams evaluating the risks and benefits of whale disentanglements.

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Higher Levels of Fukushima Cesium Detected Offshore

Scientists monitoring the spread of radiation in the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear accident report finding an increased number of contaminated sites off the US West Coast, along with the highest detection level to date, from a sample collected about 1,600 miles west of San Francisco.  The level of cesium in the sample is 50 percent higher than other samples collected, but is still more than 500 times lower than US government safety limits for drinking water and well below limits of concern for direct exposure while swimming, boating, or other recreational activities.

Ken Buesseler, a marine radiochemist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and director of the WHOI Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity, was among the first to begin monitoring radiation in the Pacific, organizing a research expedition to the area just three months after the start of the ongoing accident. Through a citizen science sampling effort, Our Radioactive Ocean, as well as research funded by the National Science Foundation, Buesseler and his colleagues are using sophisticated sensors to measure minute levels of ocean-borne radioactivity from Fukushima. In 2015, they have added more than 50 new sample locations in the Pacific to the more than 200 previously collected and posted on the Our Radioactive Ocean web site.

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Warming Ocean Worsened Australia’s Fatal 2010/2011 Floods

flood

A study by a team of U.S. and Australian researchers shows that long-term warming of the Indian and Pacific oceans played an important role in increasing the severity of the devastating floods that struck Australia in 2010/2011. The study was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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New Study Projects That Melting of Antarctic Ice Shelves Will Intensify

New Study Projects That Melting of Antarctic Ice Shelves Will Intensify

New research published today projects a doubling of surface melting of Antarctic ice shelves by 2050 and by 2100 may surpass intensities associated with ice shelf collapse, if greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption continues at the present rate.

Ice shelves are the floating extensions of the continent’s massive land-based ice sheets. While the melting or breakup of floating ice shelves does not directly raise sea level, ice shelves do have a “door stop” effect: They slow the flow of ice from glaciers and ice sheets into the ocean, where it melts and raises sea levels.

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WHOI Elects New Officers to its Board and Corporation

WHOI Elects New Officers to its Board and Corporation

Today, the Board of Trustees of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) elected David B. Scully as the new chairman of the Board.  Scully was elected to the WHOI Corporation in 2010 and to its Board in 2012. In addition to Scully’s appointment, Jefferson Hughes, Jr. has been elected vice chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Steven Hoch has been elected chairman of the WHOI Corporation.

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Gulf Stream Ring Water Intrudes onto Continental Shelf Like “Pinocchio’s Nose”

Gulf Stream Ring Water Intrudes onto Continental Shelf Like "Pinocchio's Nose"

Ocean robots installed off the coast of Massachusetts have helped scientists understand a previously unknown process by which warm Gulf Stream water and colder waters of the continental shelf exchange. The process occurs when offshore waters, originating in the tropics, intrude onto the Mid-Atlantic Bight shelf and meet the waters originating in the Arctic. This process can greatly affect shelf circulation, biogeochemistry and fisheries.

 

In 2006, scientists using satellite imagery observed an elongated body of warm water from a Gulf Stream warm-core ring intruding along the shelf edge, extending hundreds of miles from Massachusetts towards Cape Hatteras, NC.

 

“A lot of people were surprised by this,” said Weifeng ‘Gordon’ Zhang, associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and lead author of the study published [today] in Geophysical Research Letters. “Normally, the Gulf Stream water, which is very warm and buoyant, doesn’t come in direct contact with the water on the continental shelf, which is much colder. There is a cascade of potential implications that need further study.”

 

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Novel Tag Developed for Squid, Jellyfish

A new data-logging tag, called the ITAG, developed at WHOI specifically for small and delicate invertebrates not only quantifies ocean conditions but also measures animals’ responses to their physical environments in high resolution.

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Marine Archaeologists Excavate Greek Antikythera Shipwreck

Archaeologists excavating the famous ancient Greek shipwreck that yielded the Antikythera mechanism have recovered more than 50 items including a bronze armrest (possibly part of a throne), remains of a bone flute, fine glassware, luxury ceramics, a pawn from an ancient board game, and several elements of the ship itself.  

 

“This shipwreck is far from exhausted,” reports project co-Director Dr. Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). “Every single dive on it delivers fabulous finds, and reveals how the ‘1 percent’ lived in the time of Caesar.”

 

The shipwreck dates to circa 65 B.C., and was discovered by Greek sponge fishermen in 1900 off the southwestern Aegean island of Antikythera. They salvaged 36 marble statues of mythological heroes and gods; a life-sized bronze statue of an athlete; pieces of several more bronze sculptures; scores of luxury items; and skeletal remains of crew and passengers. The wreck also relinquished fragments of the world’s first computer: the Antikythera Mechanism, a geared mechanical device that encoded the movements of the planets and stars and predicted eclipses.

 

The 2015 expedition is part of a long-term research program at the site, which began in 2014. It was the first scientific excavation of the wreck, and launched the first comprehensive study of all of its artifacts. During the new multi-year program the team expects to recover artifacts and ancient artwork still buried in the seafloor, and recreate the history of the ship’s exquisite cargo and its final voyage.

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Associated Industries of Massachusetts Honors WHOI

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) will honor the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) for contributions to the Massachusetts economy at an event Monday in Foxboro marking AIM’s centennial.

AIM will present its 100th anniversary Next Century award to WHOI, the world’s largest, private non-profit oceanographic research institution and a global leader in the study and exploration of the ocean. The award recognizes companies and institutions that have made unique contributions to the Massachusetts economy and the well-being of the people who live here.

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Climate Change Will Irreversibly Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive

A new study from University of Southern California and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) shows that changing conditions due to climate change could send Tricho into overdrive with no way to stop – reproducing faster and generating lots more nitrogen. Without the ability to slow down, however, Tricho has the potential to gobble up all its available resources, which could trigger die-offs of the microorganism and the higher organisms that depend on it.

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WHOI, NEAQ Embark on Expedition to the Phoenix Islands

A research team led by the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are heading out on a 6,000-mile expedition to one of the most remote places on Earth—the Phoenix Islands in the central Pacific Ocean. Throughout the month of September and in the midst of a strengthening Pacific El Nino, researchers will investigate the combined effects of climate change and human activity on the these vast coral reef ecosystems and the diversity of life they sustain. 

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Examining the Fate of Fukushima Contaminants

An international research team reports results of a three-year study of sediment samples collected offshore from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in a new paper published August 18, 2015, in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology. The research aids in understanding what happens to Fukushima contaminants after they are buried on the seafloor off coastal Japan.

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New AUV Plankton Sampling System Deployed

Traditionally, pumps and nets are used for sampling plankton, which require sampling at predetermined stations or towing nets behind a ship, followed by visually sorting collected organisms into taxonomic groups. Samples generally combine organisms collected throughout horizontal or vertical tracks, making it impossible to detect small gradations or species-specific patterns in larval distribution. 

The sampling system combines three cutting edge technologies—an adapted Suspended Particulate Rosette (SUPR) multi-sampler, a REMUS autonomous underwater vehicle equipped with sensors, and identification of organisms by DNA barcode analysis. They’ve dubbed the new system “SUPR-REMUS.”

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Heat Release from Stagnant Deep Sea Helped End Last Ice Age

The build-up and subsequent release of warm, stagnant water from the deep Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas played a role in ending the last Ice Age within the Arctic region, according to new research led by an international team of scientists.

The study, published today in Science, examines how the circulation of the combined Arctic Ocean and Nordic Seas – called the Arctic Mediterranean – changed since the end of the last Ice Age (~20,000-30,000 years ago). The results highlight the important impact that changes in ocean circulation can have on climate.

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Ultrasounds for Coral Reefs?

In a study, published Aug. 6, 2015 in Marine Ecology Progress Series, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) used low-cost autonomous underwater recorders over four months to collect “soundscapes” of reefs in in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They showed how the collective sound recordings of reef inhabitants painted vivid pictures of the reefs’ abundance and diversity.

 

In a second study, published the same day in Marine Pollution Bulletin, the researchers recorded boat noise—showing how it could mask vital sounds that organisms make to reproduce, feed, and find new homes. They also demonstrated how underwater recorders could help marine managers keep an ear on potentially disruptive human activity in far-off locations.

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