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Media Tip Sheet – February 2024

February 5, 2024



Welcome to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s media tip sheet. You are receiving this email because you’ve asked to be kept up to date on news items, or we have worked with you in a news reporting capacity. If you don’t want to receive these monthly news tips, please respond to this email with the words “opt out.”

Our goal is to provide an advanced or detailed look at stories we believe are impactful or trending and offer WHOI experts if you’re interested in a deeper dive.

Visual of the Month: Seals haul-out on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island

Sable Island is known for its horses, but they aren’t the only ones who call the island home. Every winter, an estimated half million gray seals haul-out on this remote sandbar 200 miles off the coast to breed and give birth.

WHOI marine biologist Michelle Shero and her colleagues are working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to investigate how iron in the mother seals’ diets impacts the pup’s diving capacity– and survival rates. The number of gray seals at Sable Island has grown exponentially in recent decades. Now an estimated 90% of pups die during their first year, most likely because of the increased competition for food.

Shero's research is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)  in partnership with Texas Tech University and the University of Alaska

Photos of the island and work being done there are available for use with credit.


New Study: Prototype straw degrades faster than paper

Plastic pollution is widely recognized as a huge problem for marine ecosystems and human health, but the lack of alternatives makes it hard to minimize its impacts. That’s why #WHOI scientists, in partnership with Eastman Chemical Company, have created a prototype for a new type of plastic straw derived from wood.

A new study published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering shows that foamed cellulose diacetate straws break down even faster than paper. WHOI’s Collin Ward, a co-author on the study, says this research emphasizes the importance of partnerships between industry and academia when it comes to keeping pollutants out of the ocean.

Suck up more of this research by reading the full release. Interviews with researchers are available.

📽Media assets with credits and captions can be found here.


February 11 is International Day of Women & Girls and Science: Words from Senior Scientist Heidi Sosik

Despite progress in gender equity in the last decade, women still only make up 28% of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) workforce. Some barriers women have reported facing are stereotypes, lack of role models, and work-life imbalance. WHOI is proud to be home to a diverse team of scientists and is focused on expanding that diversity into the future.

Ahead of the International Day of Women & Girls in Science on February 11th, we’re highlighting one of our own! Heidi Sosik is a senior scientist in WHOI’s biology department. Her work largely focuses on the importance of microscopic plankton in the ocean, both in the sunlit surface layer and extending deep into the ocean twilight zone. Sosik says she enjoys unraveling the mysteries in the way these microorganisms interact with and influence everything in their environment, from light and nutrient levels to how the water itself around them moves.

“It feels like such a great time to enjoy the challenges and opportunities of a career as a researcher and educator in ocean science,” Sosik said. “I have had the privilege of some truly inspiring women as life and career mentors, and it is such rewarding work to give back and learn from new generations of scientists. We truly need the richness of diverse perspectives in our challenging field so we can understand the ocean and sustain the important ways it supports our whole planet.“

Read more about Sosik’s work and career here.


17 North Atlantic right whale calves spotted so far this season

The number of North Atlantic right whales born this season has already surpassed that of last year! 17 new calves have been spotted with their mothers along the coast from Florida to South Carolina. While this is great news, the North Atlantic right whale population is still dwindling.

With an approximate 356 of these endangered whales remaining, calves are critical for the species’ comeback. Unfortunately, the number of calves born each year can’t make up for the number of right whales that continue to die. Their leading causes of death? Entanglement and vessel strikes.

One of the calves born this season was already spotted with injuries from a propeller strike. NOAA Fisheries issued a statement saying it wasn’t expected to survive. In addition to the injured calf, a juvenile female whale was found dead in the water off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Her cause of death has not yet been determined, but it was found with embedded rope.

Learn more about North Atlantic right whales and efforts to protect them.


WHOI receives $25 million gift for ocean science

Last week,WHOI announced a $25 million gift to support ocean-based climate solutions, from the chair of the Institution’s board of trustees, Paul Salem. Salem’s commitment is a sign of the growing momentum for solutions-based climate research at WHOI. Already the planet’s biggest  “carbon sink,” scientists are studying the ocean’s capacity to draw even more carbon from the atmosphere– safely and effectively.

Read the full release here. Interviews are available.


On the February Calendar:

February 11th: International Day of Women & Girls in Science

February 14th: WHOI’s Virtual Event Series kicks off a new season: Ocean Encounters: Seabirds

February 17th: National Whale Day


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