Ocean Life


Little Things Matter A Lot

Little Things Matter A Lot

One group of bacteria—the cyanobacteria—has completely transformed Earth’s environment through their long history. Three billion years ago, ancestors of cyanobacteria infused Earth’s ancient atmosphere with the byproduct of their photosynthesis—oxygen—changing the chemistry of the planet and setting the stage for entirely new oxygen-breathing life forms to evolve. Without the cyanobacteria, the life we see around us, including humans, simply wouldn’t be here.

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The Deeps of Time in the Depths of the Ocean

The Deeps of Time in the Depths of the Ocean

Wherever we have looked in the oceans, we have found previously unknown microorganisms. We have often found them living in conditions once thought to be incompatible with life, using unfamiliar physiologic and metabolic adaptations. These discoveries have radically changed our thinking about where and how life may have originated and evolved on this planet, and where it might exist on others.

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Tracking Fish to Save Them

Tracking Fish to Save Them

For decades, the Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) was one of the most sought-after fish species in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, from the Bahamas to Central America. These large, delicious fish live among coral reefs and have a breeding behavior that makes them especially vulnerable. They come together in aggregations of thousands to spawn at specific times and places, making them easy to catch—and to overfish.

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Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have found that two chemicals accumulating in the tissues of marine animals and suspected to be manmade pollutants actually came from natural sources.

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Coral Gardens in the Dark Depths

Coral Gardens in the Dark Depths

The words “coral reefs” conjure up images of a tropical paradise: shallow, warm, aquamarine waters, bright sunlight, white coral sand, and colorful, darting fish. But corals also live deep in the sea, in regions where the sun doesn’t penetrate and water temperatures remain just above freezing.

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Do Marine Protected Areas Really Work?

Do Marine Protected Areas Really Work?

Today, Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs—areas of the ocean temporarily or permanently closed to harvesting—are being proposed to restrict not only fishing, but also mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, and other activities. Some advocates of MPAs suggest that at least 20 percent of the coastal and open ocean should be set aside and permanently zoned to protect ecosystems, sustain fish stocks, and reduce conflicts between users of the oceans.

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New Instrument Sheds Light on Bioluminescence

New Instrument Sheds Light on Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence is ubiquitous in the oceans, and especially prevalent in coastal regions where nutrients are abundant and life thrives. Yet scientists have little basic understanding of how bioluminescence is influenced by water temperatures, depths, seasons, geographic locations, even different times of day.

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Rites of Passage for Juvenile Marine Life

Rites of Passage for Juvenile Marine Life

The childhood of a barnacle is fraught with challenges. It hatches in shallow waters close to shore as a tiny larva, no bigger than a speck of dust. Currents sweep it to deeper, choppy waters, sometimes miles offshore. In these proving grounds each larva floats, at the mercy of hungry fish and swift ocean currents. Billions of larvae?including fish, lobsters, clams, starfish, and sea cucumbers?begin life this way. Only a few survive and return to shore, where they settle on rocks or sandy seafloor to become adults. Why larvae make their offshore journey remains unclear, but we are beginning to uncover the intricacies of their return trip?learning how waves, currents, eddies, tides, and other phenomena bring larvae back toward the shore.

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Coastal Upwelling

Strong winds blowing along certain coasts can promote a phenomenon known as coastal upwelling. The waters off California, Peru, and…

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Scientists Muster to Help Right Whales

Scientists Muster to Help Right Whales

It is a sad irony that we have cataloged individual photographs of the remaining North Atlantic right whales and given each of them unique numbers and sometimes names, yet still know too little about their physiology, behavior, and habitats to take effective steps toward ensuring their survival as a species.

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Whither the North Atlantic Right Whale?

Whither the North Atlantic Right Whale?

“Today only a remnant of the population survives, no more than 350 whales clustered in calving and feeding grounds along the eastern seaboard of North America. Only occasional right whale sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or in the waters between Iceland, Greenland, and Norway give echoes of their once substantially greater range.

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Revealing the Ocean’s Invisible Abundance

Revealing the Ocean's Invisible Abundance

Finding minuscule life forms in a seemingly infinite ocean isn’t trivial. But in recent years, oceanographers have been developing new techniques and instruments to identify and count marine microorganisms. Year by year, we are learning more and more about them and discovering that they are even more numerous, varied, and important than we previously thought.

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Down on the Farm…Raising Fish

Down on the Farm...Raising Fish

Aquaculture, or fish farming, is changing how we think about one of our main sources of protein. With many fish stocks shrinking due to overfishing or environmental degradation, aquaculture holds the promise of more reliable and more sustainable seafood production. The economic and social benefits could be significant for both consumers and producers.

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Life in the Arctic Ocean

Life in the Arctic Ocean

Capped with a formidable ice and snow cover, plunged into total darkness during the winter, buffeted by blizzard winds,and bitterly cold, the Arctic Ocean is one of the most inaccessible and yet beautiful environments on Earth. Life here endures some of the greatest extremes in light and temperature known to our planet. Yet despite these inhospitable conditions, the Arctic Ocean is teeming with life.

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The Secret Lives of Fish

The Secret Lives of Fish

“We have found that otoliths of fish born in each of the five natal estuaries had different, unique isotope and element compositions, or “signatures.” All their lives, these fish had carried a natural tag, encoding the location where they were hatched.

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Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?

Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?

In 1991, scientists aboard the submersible Alvin were in the right spot at the right time to witness something extraordinary. They had sailed into the aftermath of a very recent volcanic eruption on the seafloor and found themselves in a virtual blizzard. They were densely surrounded by flocs of white debris, composed of sulfur and microbes, which drifted more than 30 meters above the ocean bottom. The seafloor was coated with a 10-centimeter-thick layer of the same white material. This vast volume of microbes did not come from the ocean. The eruption had flushed it out from beneath the seafloor.

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The Grass is Greener in the Coastal Ocean

The Grass is Greener in the Coastal Ocean

Stretching from inland rivers and bays to the edge of the continental shelf, the coastal ocean accounts for about 10 percent of the ocean’s surface area. Yet this relatively small sliver of ocean contains about half of all the microscopic plants adrift in our seas.

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The Evolutionary Puzzle of Seafloor Life

The Evolutionary Puzzle of Seafloor Life

Most of Earth’s crust is manufactured at the bottom of the sea. Deep beneath the waves and beyond our view, magma erupts along a 40,000-mile volcanic mountain chain that bisects the ocean floors and encircles the globe. The lava flowing from these mid-ocean ridges solidifies into new ocean crust that spreads out and paves the surface of our planet.

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Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Study Shows Sharp Decline in Mothers

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) report in today’s issue of the journal Nature that the population growth rate of North Atlantic Right whales has declined below replacement level because of increased mortality rates of mothers. The population numbers only about 300 and is predicted to become extinct within 200 years if the environmental conditions experienced by the whales in 1995 were maintained.

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Colonizing The Deep Sea: WHOI Scientist Helps Find Answers to Hydrothermal Vent Puzzle

For nearly 25 years, scientists have wondered how giant red-tipped tubeworms and other exotic marine life found at hydrothermal vents on the deep sea floor get from place to place and how long their larva survive in a cold, eternally dark place. Now Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Biologist Lauren Mullineaux and colleagues have helped answer those questions.

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