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Ocean Life


Report reveals ‘unseen’ human benefits from ocean twilight zone

A new report from researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) reveals for the first time the unseen—and somewhat surprising—benefits that people receive from the ocean’s twilight zone. Also known as the “mesopelagic,” this is the ocean layer just beyond the sunlit surface.

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Value Beyond View: The Ocean Twilight Zone

How does the ocean twilight zone benefit life on Earth? The ocean twilight zone helps regulates our climate. Storing two to six billion tons of carbon annually. That’s up to six times the amount of carbon emitted from autos worldwide. Preventing an increase in temperature between 6-11°F. The ocean twilight zone supports a healthy ocean ecosystem. Containing 10 times more fish than the rest of the ocean. Providing food for many other animals in the ocean. The ocean twilight zone could also play an important role in feeding a growing population. We are working to better understand this realm in order to inform sustainable management decisions.

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Open Ocean Diving Observations

Watch and learn how blue and black water diving is conducted in the open ocean and what these divers see during the day and during the twilight zone migration at night.

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Tagging and Tracking Wild Squid

Squid are ecologically important marine animals that play a key role in many ocean ecosystems and fisheries. Measuring squid movements, energetics, and habitat use in their natural environment provides important insight into their ecology. However, because the inherent challenges of monitoring these soft-bodied, open-ocean-dwelling organisms, fine-scale observations of their behavior are rare. Bio-logging tags are an increasingly useful way to remotely study squid behavior in their natural environments.

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2019 Year in Review

Enjoy this montage of video captured throughout 2019 documenting how WHOI researchers explore the ocean planet to tackle the most pressing questions about our water world and find solutions to benefit society.

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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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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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Paul Caiger hunts for things that glow in the Ocean Twilight Zone

Paul Caiger is a fish biologist, marine photographer and postdoctoral investigator at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). From the ghoulish grimace of the viperfish, to the bejeweled beauty of the strawberry squid, Caiger’s marine portraits have helped shine a light in this dark but critical ocean zone.

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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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Right Whales

right whale

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whales in the world—only roughly 400 remain. Learn how…

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How microbes reflect the health of coral reefs

A collaborative study compared seawater from 25 reefs in Cuba and the U.S. Florida Keys varying in human impact and protection, and found that those with higher microbial diversity and lower concentrations of nutrients and organic carbon—primarily caused by human activities—were markedly healthier.

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Sea anemones with jet lag?

WHOI scientists investigate the internal body clocks of sea anemones to determine if fluctuating temperatures play a role in their daily rhythms.

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