Research

Members of the Biology Department at WHOI seek to understand life in the oceans and the interactions of marine organisms with their environments.  WHOI biologists study a variety of marine organisms, including prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea), viruses, protists, phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, seabirds, and whales. We conduct research at all levels of biological organization, from molecules and cells to communities and ecosystems.  We use both traditional oceanographic methods and modern innovative approaches, the latter including molecular biology, genomics and proteomics, acoustics, and advanced optical imaging technologies.  The research often involves collaborations with other WHOI scientists to understand the interactions of marine life with its chemical, physical, and geological surroundings. WHOI Biologists also collaborate with WHOI engineers in the development of novel instrumentation to enable improved sampling of marine organisms and gathering of data in situ and remotely.  Data collected may be analyzed using sophisticated mathematical models that describe the spatial and temporal changes in marine populations. WHOI Biologists also employ molecular and genomic methods to understand the molecular and genetic foundation of evolutionary adaptations to changing marine environments.

Areas of strength in the Biology Department include:

  • Zooplankton ecology
  • Phytoplankton ecology (including harmful algae)
  • Benthic and larval ecology
  • Marine microbial ecology and biogeochemistry
  • Modeling and mathematical ecology
  • Environmental toxicology and adaptation
  • Marine mammal biology
  • Fish ecology
  • Conservation biology

Geographic areas of focus include:

  • Coastal environments
  • Deep sea (including vents and seamounts)
  • Polar areas
  • Open ocean and mid-water
  • Coral reefs 

    To learn more about the topical areas of research be sure to check out our Biology Labs pages!

WHOI necropsy and CT scan facility

To learn about marine mammal hearing, researchers use the new WHOI necropsy and CT scan facility to reveal the internal anatomy of ears. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

WHOI researchers found these barnacle larvae, called cyprids, frozen into ice in January on the shores of Buzzards Bay, Mass.

WHOI researchers found these barnacle larvae, called cyprids, frozen into ice in January on the shores of Buzzards Bay, Mass. They were surprised to find that the larvae (at 1 millimeter long, about half the diameter of the head of a pin) could thaw out, swim, and develop into normal adults. (Photo by Jesús Pineda, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)