Ocean Currents » animals http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:19:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Mythical Ocean Animals http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/mythical-ocean-animals/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/mythical-ocean-animals/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:00:54 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9447

The ocean, in its vastness, is home to some amazing animals—and some amazing myths. The sailors and explorers we studied in history class are famous for more than their voyages and discoveries. Their travels often came with tales of fantastic creatures, too strange to be true. This Halloween, we thought we’d revisit some of the ocean’s most famous mythical creatures. 


Mermaids have a long, complex mythology, appearing in everything from Homer to Hans Christen Anderson. As you’re probably aware, historians believe this legend originated with sailors who had a little too much salty sea air.

Imagine you’ve been at sea for several weeks with a diet consisting solely of hard tack and rum. Suddenly you spot a beautiful mermaid off the starboard bow! Slow down, captain… that’s probably just the rum talking. You’re really just looking at a manatee or a dugong.

Manatees and dugongs make up a group of animals known as the Sirenia, whose name is derived from the mythological women found in Greek mythology. Also known as sea cows, the Sirenia are aquatic mammals that spend their days grazing in seagrass beds. All four species of Sirenia are considered vulnerable under the IUCN Red List.

The Kraken

No creature was more feared by sailors than the kraken—a gigantic mythical beast said to be “round, flat, and full of arms, or branches,” that rises up from the sea to eat fish and fishermen alike. Its massive size is said to cause whirlpools capable of sinking ships, and its spreading muddy cloud to darken the water.

The inspiration behind the legend of the Kraken is most likely the giant squid, the largest of which was nearly 43 feet long. In addition to its eight arms, giant squid have two feeding tentacles tipped with suckers. They use these tentacles to catch prey and bring toward their sharp beaks. Little is known about the behavior of the giant squid, as very few have been seen alive. Most of what scientists know comes from the bodies of giant squid that wash ashore.


When most people think of unicorns, they don’t think of the ocean. However, in medieval times, it was commonly believed that narwhal tusks belonged to the legendary unicorn. Highly prized, these tusks supposedly contained magical powers.

In reality, a narwhal’s tusk is an enlarged tooth, usually found on males. Scientists aren’t positive what it’s used for, but have proposed theories from attracting mates, to more recently sensing the environment.

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The Gulf is Home to a Small Group of Really Big Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:45:10 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9312

When I think of the great filter-feeding whales, I don’t tend to think of the Gulf of Mexico. However, I was recently reminded that the Gulf is home to some of these amazing whales. They are called Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whales, and they are found around the world, but only 33 of them live in the northern Gulf. A recent genetic study by NOAA biologists reveals that this small group of whales may be a completely unique subspecies!

These Bryde’s whales are unique in their size, as well as in the calls that they use to communicate with each other. Through genetic analysis, scientists have determined that this subspecies has undergone a dramatic decline in population. “It’s unclear based on the genetics exactly when [the decline] occurred,” said Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s possible humans were involved in the decline, through whaling or industrial activities.”

With only 33 whales and little genetic diversity, the newfound subspecies is particularly vulnerable to threats such as ship strikes, noise and pollution. The Bryde’s whales’ home range is also adjacent to the Mississippi Canyon, the area where the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred, raising questions about how this small group of whales may have been impacted by that disaster.

The NRDC has submitted a petition to have the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale federally listed as endangered. As a genetically distinct subspecies, these whales are eligible for additional protections under U.S. law—protections that are necessary if we want to improve their chance for survival and recovery.

Scientists are continuing to study these whales. The information they gain will help them understand the history, biology, status and conservation needs of Bryde’s whales and others that live in the area—such as the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population discovered last year —because the first step in protecting something is understanding what it needs to survive. This information is also a key part of restoring the Gulf of Mexico to the vibrant, diverse ecosystem that we depend on.

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Ocean Acidification Wrecks Sharks’ Smellovision http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:06:23 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9054

Scarier than any movie shark that can smell a drop of blood miles away (they can’t, by the way) is this week’s news about sharks’ sense of smell. A team of Australian and American scientists has just shown that smooth dogfishes (also called dusky smooth-hound sharks) can’t smell food as well after living in ocean acidification conditions expected for the year 2100. These “future” sharks could correctly track food smells only 15% of the time, compared to a 60% accuracy rate for unexposed sharks.  In fact, the acidification-exposed sharks even avoided food smells!

This surprising result is also pretty sobering, when you consider how important sharks’ sense of smell is to nearly everything they do. Sharks have especially large, complex “nose” organs, which help them find food, mates, and predators, as well as find their way around the oceans. Many sharks, including the smooth dogfish, are very active at night and in the deep, dark ocean, so their sense of smell provides critical information about their surroundings. The researchers note that the sharks’ damaged sense of smell is probably due to the same changes in neurotransmitters reported in coral reef clownfish (yes, Nemo) that love the smell of predators in an acidifying ocean.

Despite their mighty reputation, sharks are under threat from overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss. Sharks that also can’t find food or avoid predators will probably not survive long, causing even more trouble for shark populations. They grow and reproduce slowly, too, meaning that sharks that die young aren’t replaced quickly. Scientists still don’t know yet if the smooth dogfish can adapt over several generations to improve their odds against the ocean acidification we will see over the coming decades, but it doesn’t look good.

Smooth dogfishes live along coasts from Maine to Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and along the southeastern coast of South America. They might benefit somewhat from the actions that East Coast states like Maine and Maryland are taking against ocean acidification, but as species that migrate long distances, our best bet is to cut carbon dioxide emissions globally.

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Wallpaper Wednesday: Smartphone Wallpapers http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/01/wallpaper-wednesday-smartphone-wallpapers/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/01/wallpaper-wednesday-smartphone-wallpapers/#comments Wed, 01 Aug 2012 17:57:15 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2044 Keep the wonders of the ocean at your fingertips with one of this week’s new smartphone wallpapers. Click on one of the images below and save it to your phone or click here for further downloading instructions and other wallpaper selections.


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Bottlenose Dolphin

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Harp Seal

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