You’ve heard of whales singing, but what about talking? If that sounds crazy, most marine biologists would have agreed until they had heard it — a whale trying to imitate human speech. In fact, they had not realized it was physically possible for whales to make those kinds of sounds until a beluga whale named NOC spoke up.
The Marine Science Institute's monthly column, Science and the SeaTM, is an informative and entertaining article that explains many interesting features of the marine environment and the creatures that live there. Science and the SeaTM articles appear monthly in one of Texas' most widely read fishing magazines, Texas Saltwater Fishing, the Port Aransas South Jetty newspaper, the newsletter of the Texas Chapter of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association , and the Heartland Of America online newspaper. Our article archive is available also on our website.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began in spring 2010 was one of the largest ecological disasters of recent history. The big question has been — how do we clean up all that oil? Maybe we don’t have to do it all: man’s disaster has been bacteria’s feast, and the amount of oil these microscopic creatures have chowed down is colossal.
In the five months following the spill, naturally occurring bacteria digested 200,000 tons of oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico. That’s equivalent to the weight of 415 fully-loaded 747 airplanes carrying maximum loads.
While Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the world made history, circling the globe is a regular annual trip for many albatrosses.
There are 21 species of these great seafaring birds — 19 of them are threatened or endangered, mostly due to being caught on baited hooks set by longline fishing boats. Albatrosses spend about 80 percent of their lives at sea. They don’t breed often and may spend one or two years between breeding seasons at sea foraging for squid, krill, fish and crustaceans.
While seahorses certainly are a unique-looking fish, that’s hardly their most unusual trait. Seahorses and their relatives, pipefishes, are the only family of fish in which the males become pregnant and give birth.The process begins with males seeking out the largest females, who provide the largest size and greatest number of eggs. The pair swim together, “hold tails” and “dance” for several mornings. Then, an 8-hour courtship dance leads to the actual mating.
If being a “blue blood” is a sign of royalty, then horseshoe crabs may be the kings and queens of the sea. In fact, their unique blood is one reason they have survived for more than 450 million years.
Horseshoe crab blood is actually gray-white to pale yellow most of the time because it rarely carries much oxygen. But when oxygenated, horseshoe crab blood is blue because it contains the copper-based compound, hemocyanin, instead of the iron-containing hemoglobin that gives most other creatures red blood.
Horseshoe crabs are known as “living fossils” because they have survived on Earth for more than 450 million years. Although they have evolved in small ways over the millennia, they haven’t changed nearly as much as the world around them. Over the years, horseshoe crabs have seen the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, lived through the rise of the mammals and survived three major extinctions, including a huge one 250 million years ago that wiped out about 96% of marine creatures and 70% of large land animals.
This poison is called tetrodotoxin, a word coined after the puffer fish’s scientific name. It’s a potent neurotoxin that can kill even humans when ingested. Though this toxin was first identified in puffers, the fish don’t actually make it themselves — in a way, they borrow it.
When threatened, puffers puff themselves up by gulping down water and pumping it into their highly expandable stomachs, making their bodies difficult for predators to swallow. One spiny puffer species, called the balloonfish, swells to about 3 times its usual volume. Most of that increase is thanks to the stomach, whose many folds let it expand by 50 to 100 times! At the same time, hundreds of sharp spines all over its body stand erect.
What is the greatest size and age a living thing can achieve? Seagrass meadows may hold the answer.
Seagrasses are flowering plants that have adapted to live submerged in the ocean. Although there are only about 60 species, they cover a vast amount of the world’s temperate and tropical coastal areas.