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Ocean Life


Even Sperm Whales Get the Bends

Even Sperm Whales Get the Bends

It seemed only natural for deep-diving sperm whales to be immune from decompression illness, or the bends?the painful, sometimes fatal condition that human divers suffer when they surface too rapidly. But the whales may be as susceptible as land mammals, according to a new study by WHOI biologists.

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Playing Tag with Whales

Playing Tag with Whales

The challenge of designing a device to learn what marine mammals do on dives is the stuff of dreams for an electronics engineer.

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Run Deep, But Not Silent

Run Deep, But Not Silent

For the first time in history, we can accompany a whale on its dive, hear what it hears, and observe its normal, natural, previously hidden behavior in the depths. Working closely together, scientists and engineers have created an innovative new device—the digital acoustic recording tag, or D-tag. It attaches to a living whale and records nearly everything that happens on its dives, without disturbing the animal.

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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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Red Tides and Dead Zones

Red Tides and Dead Zones

The most widespread, chronic environmental problem in the coastal ocean is caused by an excess of chemical nutrients. Over the past century, a wide range of human activities—the intensification of agriculture, waste disposal, coastal development, and fossil fuel use—has substantially increased the discharge of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients into the environment. These nutrients are moved around by streams, rivers, groundwater, sewage outfalls, and the atmosphere and eventually end up in the ocean.

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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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