Over the past year I have been working for an organization called Coastal America helping to plan the Third National Student Summit on the Ocean and Coasts , a program that teams up high school students with educators to work on an ocean-related research project and “action plan” in their community. In February, the program brought 80 students and 40 educators from schools and aquariums across the United States and Mexico to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to present their plans for projects that involve the ocean and climate. The student presentations were webcast live...
This week at the Smithsonian Ocean Portal we embark on an experiment we're calling "Make Me Care." The concept is simple: we ask a renowned expert to tell us why we should care about his or her marine subject matter. We're giving them only about a minute on video to accomplish the task, so it's a difficult - and not very fair - challenge. Dennis Whigham is a senior botanist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, in Edgewater, Md. He's graciously agreed to be the first expert to participate. Whigham is a specialist in many subject areas, including mangroves , orchids, tidal...
Many animals depend on their eyes to navigate, find food, locate mates, and for other important activities. But marine mammals often rely on sound—sometimes far more than sight—for such critical daily tasks. Increasingly though, boat traffic, energy extraction, and other noisy human activities echo through the marine realm sometimes disrupting these animals’ behavior. Six years ago, a group of marine scientists, acousticians (experts in sound), and U.S. government and Navy personnel met to discuss how one of these noisy activities—military sonar—affects marine mammals. It was clear that in...
Since the dawn of seafaring, humankind has had to deal with the pesky creatures that settle on ships—seaweeds, barnacles, and others that take advantage of the empty real estate provided by a clean hull. Fouled hulls make for slower speeds and for powerboats, higher fuel costs (drag is a drag). Boat owners have a handful of strategies to cope with this problem, such as pulling boats out of water when they are not in use, scraping hulls clean, and coating hulls with paints that repel these unwanted settlers. Not surprisingly, marine organisms have evolved some solutions of their own. Some...
Salmon are one of the most widely loved varieties of seafood in the world. A ubiquitous alternative to meat and poultry, salmon wear a halo of healthfulness, as they are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids . But many wild salmon stocks are dwindling, which means that unless otherwise specified, the salmon you’re most likely to find in restaurants and stores is from a farm. Wild Atlantic salmon once ranged from Portugal to Newfoundland and in every major river north of the Hudson, but they have disappeared from many waterways and are in danger of going extinct within our lifetime...
All over the world, people have been witnessing gigantic blooms of tens of thousands of jellyfish where once there were only a few. Fishers find them clogging their nets and costing them dearly. In Japan, giant jellyfish capable of reaching six feet across even capsized a boat that tried to bring them aboard. Where are these stinging menaces coming from and why are they everywhere? Jellyfish explosions are often triggered by overfishing of small fish, like sardines and anchovies, which compete with jellyfish for food. Jellyfish are also more tolerant of low oxygen conditions than fishes, and...
Fever. Aching muscles. Coughing. Sniffling. It’s flu season . Have you had your shot? If so, thank a horseshoe crab. In fact, if you’ve been put on an IV, had a medical device implanted, or received nearly any injectable medication or vaccine in the past few decades, you likely owe the humble horseshoe crab a debt of gratitude. These bizarre creatures —with their helmet-shaped shells, blue-colored blood, seven pairs of legs, and 10 eyes—hold an important medical tool in their bloodstreams. In the 1950s, researchers noticed that the blood of the western Atlantic horseshoe crab species (called...
Sunday, November 21 marks World Fisheries Day , an annual occasion observed in many fishing communities around the world. It’s a great opportunity—even for those of us who do not fish for a living—to pause and reflect on the importance of maintaining healthy fisheries. As a scientist, my research on tropical marine fishes has taken me around the world, including locations where I have seen firsthand the impacts that humans are having on marine resources. In 2001, for example, I was part of a Smithsonian expedition to El Salvador studying the coastal fish fauna. We had a chance to work one day...
Animals, on land and in the ocean, live in a 3-D world, and they depend on their sense organs and brains to build the mental constructs that allow them to orient and navigate, which is crucial for hunting and fleeing. The process is far from simple. Humans, for example, use many visual clues to judge relative distance. Objects get smaller and blurrier with distance and parallel lines appear to converge, principles that painters mastered in the 13th and 14th centuries in their quest to turn a 2-D canvas into a 3-D experience. More recently, paired cameras have made 3-D photographs and films a...
Welcome to Citizens of the Sea , a new blog series where ocean life comes to life. Our book by the same name came out in September, but no sooner had it gone off to the printer than new ocean stories started streaming in. So every other week, we’ll use this series to explore some interesting aspect of marine life forms and their weird and wonderful ways of getting by. We’d like to start with a personal story about the reefs of Panama near the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute where we recently spent 10 days studying coral spawning. Corals reproduce both sexually and asexually. A colony...