Our regular Science and the SeaTM radio program presents marine science topics in an engaging two-minute story format. Our script writers gather ideas for the radio program from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute's researchers and from our very popular college class, Introduction to Oceanography, which we teach to hundreds of non-science majors at The University of Texas at Austin every year. Our radio programs are distributed at to commercial and public radio stations across the country.
During the Irish potato famines of the 19th century, many people survived by eating limpets -- small animals that cling to rocks at the ocean’s edge. And when German troops occupied the island of Jersey during World War II, its people survived on a stew of limpets and curry powder. So limpets became known as “famine food” -- something to eat when there wasn’t much else.
Yet a recent study notes that limpets have been an important food source for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest record of humans eating limpets is a 164,000-year-old cave painting in Africa.
What happens in the Arctic doesn’t always stay in the Arctic. Changes in conditions in the Arctic Ocean can have an impact on land as well. A loss of sea ice, for example, appears to increase the risk of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Wildfires have been a growing problem in Washington, Oregon, and northern California for a couple of decades. Around Labor Day of 2020, for example, fires in Washington burned more than half a million acres in just 36 hours. And the 2021 fire season in California was the worst ever.
Davidson Seamount -- an extinct underwater volcano off the coast of California -- has been described as “an oasis of the deep.” It’s home to huge coral reefs -- some of them more than a century old. It hosts crabs, many species of deep-sea fish, and big fields of sponges. And scientists recently discovered something else: the largest congregation of octopuses seen anywhere in the world -- more than a thousand of them. They nicknamed the spot the Octopus Garden.
In the 1958 B-movie “The Blob,” Steve McQueen and the gang stop the blobby monster from absorbing people by freezing it. The Air Force then drops it on Arctic sea ice to keep it frozen. With the sea ice melting in a hurry, though, perhaps we should keep an eye out to make sure it doesn’t head back for land.
On the other hand, the warming climate has already given us an ocean “blob”: a giant pool of warm water off the Pacific coast. It killed huge numbers of marine organisms.
Big heat waves are hotter, more common, and cause more suffering than ever -- and not just on land. Marine heat waves are a problem as well. Eight of the 10 largest ever seen have occurred since 2010 -- a result of Earth’s warming climate. And the hot spells are likely to become an even bigger challenge in the decades ahead.
The White’s seahorse could be forgiven for feeling unwelcome. The seahorse is found mainly along the eastern coast of Australia. In the last couple of decades, though, its population has dropped by 90 percent. The main cause is a loss of habitat, but the seahorse has also been hurt by storms.
Researchers are trying to roll out a sort of welcome mat, though. They’re setting up “hotels” on the ocean floor that could become new seahorse habitats.
The Steller sea lion used to be a common sight along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to California. But for some reason, the sea lion’s population plunged. So in 1990, the sea lion was placed on the endangered species list, which gave it legal protections. Thanks to conservation efforts, the species in the eastern half of its range recovered. And in 2013, the eastern Steller sea lion was removed from the endangered list.
Nature doesn’t always work in ways that seem to make sense -- at least at first glance. You might expect, for example, that as giant whales disappeared from the Southern Ocean during the 20th century, their prey -- tiny organisms known as krill -- would flourish. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the krill began disappearing as well.
The tusk of a narwhal has a lot of uses. It may help the whale attract a mate, sense prey, and stun its prey. It inspired folktales of unicorns. And today, it’s helping scientists examine changes in the environment.
A narwhal tusk can reach up to 9 or 10 feet in length. It’s actually a tooth that grows from the upper jaw of a male. It forms a new layer every year. And like the rings of a tree, each layer records a little about the year, including the narwhal’s diet and its exposure to pollution.
The groups that rescue and treat sick or injured sea turtles take advantage of a lot of modern science: the latest medications, CAT scans, laser surgery, and much more. But some of those groups also use one of the most ancient treatments of all: honey. Some even keep their own beehives to maintain a fresh supply.
Honey has been used as a treatment for people for thousands of years. It’s been applied to cuts and scrapes, burns, and other wounds. And both ancient accounts and modern research tell us that it can help heal a variety of injuries.