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.
The oceans are like big pantries. Every year, people harvest around 80 million tons of marine organisms from them. If this harvest is managed properly, the oceans can continue to feed us year after year after year.
That’s because life in the oceans is a renewable resource. Unlike oil or other mineral resources, which come in limited supplies, ocean life renews itself.
Digging for clams on Cape Cod is an All-American summer pastime. But the clams remained safely buried last summer, because coastal waters from Massachusetts to Maine were contaminated by a red tide.
A red tide occurs when common types of algae produce population explosions. There can be so many of these microscopic plants that they color the water red or brown. In many cases, though, they’re undetectable.
Many red tides are harmless. But others can kill fish and other animals in the water, and harm the creatures along the shore that eat them.
In some science fiction movies, the oceans can freeze in mid-wave, saving the heroes for another day. But such a quick-freeze is possible only in the imagination of a writer.
When the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989, it caused an ecological disaster. It spilled more than 250,000 barrels of crude oil, which washed up on more than a thousand miles of beaches. The spill killed countless fish, birds, and other animals, thinning out populations for years.
Laguna Madre -- Mother Lagoon -- is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet. The narrow lagoon stretches a couple of hundred miles along the coasts of Texas and Mexico, between the mainland and a series of barrier islands.
Soft music and sweet talk are important parts of human courtships. But some other species prefer their sweet nothings to be a little louder.
Consider the Weddell seal, which lives in the Antarctic. The male appears to use special sounds when he’s trying to attract new lady friends. The females might evaluate those sounds to determine which potential mates are the fittest.
The deepest canyon on Earth makes the Grand Canyon look like something a child dug in the sandbox. Yet only two men have ever seen it with their own eyes. The tallest mountain beats Mount Everest by three-quarters of a mile, yet most of it is blocked from view. And the longest mountain range wraps around the entire planet, yet most maps ignore it.
All of these natural wonders are hidden beneath the oceans, where they’re difficult to study. In fact, because it’s so hard to chart the ocean floor, we have more detailed maps of Mars than of most of Earth.
Thanks to warnings by hurricane forecasters, thousands of people moved out of harm’s way before Tropical Storm Gabrielle hit Florida in 2001. But 14 sharks that researchers were tracking also moved out of the way. They may have used their own forecasting technique to detect the approaching danger -- a change in pressure in the inner ear caused by the dropping air pressure.
The deep ocean is darker than midnight, colder than a chilled martini, and more pressure-packed than Wall Street. But like the strange life form in the sci-fi program "Surface," plenty of organisms find it a comfortable place to live. They've adapted to an environment that's as mysterious as another planet.
The largest creature ever to live on Earth wasn’t a mammoth, or even a dinosaur. It lives today, gliding through the depths of the oceans: the blue whale. It’s twice as long as a city bus and weighs as much as an airliner. And every day during peak feeding season, it can eat several tons of plankton - some of the smallest organisms on Earth.
The blue whale and its diet illustrate the great diversity of life in the oceans.