What do you think of when you picture a marine biologist at work? Perhaps a SCUBA diver counting animals underwater, or people leaning over the side of a boat to put tags on whales, or exploring the deep ocean using submarines. Or even a person bending over a microscope, trying to identify tiny plankton. Few people would picture someone sorting through the contents of ancient trash heaps, or comparing Roman mosaic artworks, or poring over old colonial maps. After all, those are jobs for archaeologists and historians. Marine biologists study ocean life, not human history, right?
Marine biology is the study of life in the ocean, from the smallest microbes to the largest animals to ever live on Earth. It is the collective effort of scientists from many fields to explore, understand, and conserve the diversity of life in in the world's largest ecosystem. Oceans cover 71% of our planet's surface, and provide 99% of its livable habitat by volume. They are the largest space in our universe known to be inhabited by living organisms, yet we know less about the deepest reaches of our oceans than we do about the surface of Mars. This vast marine space is home to an enormous diversity of strange and wonderful organisms, so much so that hundreds of new species are discovered every year. We depend on this biodiversity: 3 billion people rely on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, and 2.6 billion people rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein. Human impacts on ocean ecosystems are increasing, and marine biologists are working to understand how sea creatures adapt to changing environments, and develop sustainable solutions. In this blog, we will discuss the latest scientific discoveries, cool critters, and current issues from Earth's living oceans.
Octopus and squid are known for their sophisticated eyes, but recent studies show they may be able to sense light with their skin too.
If someone asks you what the most common life strategy on earth is, you might be surprised by the answer. It turns out that some 40% of known species on our planet are parasites. Parasites are organisms that spend at least some part of their life on or in a host species, at that host’s prolonged expense or eventual death. Rarely inspiring respect, parasites are more commonly considered scoundrels and degenerates, exploiting other species in order take the easiest route to reproductive bliss. But there is nothing easy about being a parasite. Many parasites have complex transmission, requiring successive infection of multiple different hosts in order to complete their lifecycle. In fact, that parasitism is so successful in the face of such complexity is a testament to the strategy’s evolutionary elegance. But how will this elegant life strategy hold up to accelerating climate change?
Across the global ocean, billions of small animals undergo a daily commute of hundreds of feet between their daytime habitat in the ocean depths and their nighttime feeding grounds just below the surface of the water. This may not sound impressive compared to the thousands of miles covered during the migrations of whales or birds, but when considered collectively, the migration of these tiny animals blows all other animal migrations out of the water.
We often associate sleek shapes with fast speed and agility. Think of hawks, tunas, rockets, and even Olympic swimmers. But the flippers of one of the ocean's largest swimmers, the humpback whale, is covered with bumps along the front. Given the trend towards slick, streamlined surfaces, why be bumpy where other animals (and manmade creations) are smooth?