When we think of the world’s biggest repositories of trash, we usually picture vast landfills. But thanks to the nature of ocean currents (and the indestructibility of some garbage), an area called the North Pacific Gyre has become known as the vortex of trash.
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.
Imagine living in a place where crashing waves pound against jagged rocks, the blazing sun bakes the ground, and predators stalk the shore. This is life in the intertidal zone.
The intertidal zone is the area on a shoreline between the high and low tides, and it offers an abundance of nourishment for marine life. Nutrients washed down from the land and gases churned by the waves feed algae and plankton, which form the base of the intricate intertidal food web.
A house made of glass may not seem like the ideal shelter, that is, unless you’re a certain kind of tiny marine creature. Fragile and beautiful cities composed of these glass homes are created by only a few unique species of sponges and can cover miles of ocean floor, forming what are known as glass sponge reefs.
Native Alaskan hunters made an incredible discovery during a bowhead whale hunt in May 2007. Embedded in the blubber of a 50-ton whale was a fragment of a harpoon dating from the 1800s.
Scientists typically find it difficult to determine the age of whales, but in this case, they could put a time-stamp on the whale in question. Since the harpoon found in its body was a unique design, used only in New England from about 1885-1895, the whale must have been carrying it around for over one hundred years.
When climate forecasters predict busy Atlantic hurricane seasons, residents on the east and Gulf coasts begin to prepare to face deadly weather. One potentially important factor in hurricane forecasts is the cycle of El Ni√±o (the boy in Spanish), and its counterpart, La Ni√±a (the girl).
These two innocently named phenomena have a mighty impact on global weather.
In the tropical reef habitats of the Caribbean and Atlantic lives the bluehead wrasse, a small, colorful fish with an amazing ability. The bluehead wrasse is a hermaphrodite - it can change its own sex.
Many of these small fish first mature as females, but when their population needs another male, some of these females can change into males.
Long wavelengths of light such as red and yellow and very short wavelengths such as ultraviolet light (UV) get absorbed very quickly in water. As a result, the only light remaining in the deep ocean is blue.
Organisms are therefore adapted to see only this dim blue light, and most are colored red because the lack of red light makes them virtually invisible.
Octopi, squids, and cuttlefishes, collectively known as cephalopods, are intelligent invertebrates that have the ability to change the color of their skin. One reason they change color is to camouflage themselves from predators and prey.
But, they also use changes in color to communicate. Communication is critical for animals because it can help them reproduce or survive. These particular cephalopods use color signals to exchange information about mating, aggression, or danger.
A cherry red sports car passes by and catches everyone’s eye. A brilliant red hibiscus is a centerpiece in a lush tropical garden. It seems impossible for anything having a crimson hue to be inconspicuous. But that’s precisely what some marine animals are.
Red snapper, several kinds of rockfishes, and even some shrimps that live in moderately deep water are covered with red pigment. Yet in their natural habitat, they are virtually invisible.
The next time you have a chance, take a close look — a really close look — at a shark’s head. Under the snout and around the mouth you will notice hundreds of tiny pores. These are the openings of jelly-filled sacs known as ampullae of Lorenzini, and they give the shark the ability to sense electricity.