Ocean Currents » animals http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:30:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Arctic Wildlife: Get to Know the Insect of the Sea, Arctic Copepods http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/07/arctic-wildlife-get-to-know-the-insect-of-the-sea-arctic-copepods/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/07/arctic-wildlife-get-to-know-the-insect-of-the-sea-arctic-copepods/#comments Thu, 07 Apr 2016 12:00:44 +0000 Becca Robbins Gisclair http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11873

Our blog series on the lesser known (but just as cool) species of the Arctic continues with Arctic copepods. Read our other blogs from the series: polar cod and brittle stars.

I’ve always loved ribbon seals, narwhals and ringed seals to name a few cute Arctic creatures. While these beautiful animals get all the glory, they wouldn’t be around for these important little guys at the base of the food chain: meet the copepod!

“Copepod” means oar-footed, and that is how these aquatic crustaceans, often called “insects of the sea” move around. They use their four to five pairs of legs as well as their mouth and tail to swim. In the Arctic, copepods live on the seafloor, in the water column and on the sea ice. In the water column, there are more copepods than any other multi-cellular organism.

Copepods come in many forms—some are filter feeders, some are predators. Copepods have two major life forms and grow by shedding their shell. They go through 12 stages after hatching—that’s a lot of wardrobe changes! By our standards, copepods are tiny, measuring in at 0.3 to 2cm long at full size.

Here’s what lots of copepods look like! (From a Bowhead whale stomach)

In the Arctic there are over 150 species of copepods. The most abundant and largest is Calanus hyperboreus, a filter feeder with red highlights on its antennae. These copepods have a reproductive cycle uniquely adapted to life in the Arctic, using the dark Arctic night for romance. In the deep of winter, males fertilize the females and then die off. Females then survive on stored up reserves of large fat deposits to make it through the winter.

Copepods are the critical base of the food chain in the Arctic. Some large mammals such as bowhead whales, eat copepods directly. Here is what a whole lot of copepods from the stomach of a Bowhead whale look like (picture to the right). Fish species, such as the polar cod, also eat copepods. Other marine mammals, such as my beloved favorite the ribbon seal, then eat the polar cod. While they might not be as cute and snuggly as the larger, more charismatic critters who depend on them, the copepod is the essential foundation for life in the Arctic.

Learn how you can help protect copepods and the vast diversity of wildlife who call the Arctic home.

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Five Reasons to Love Manatees http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/five-reasons-to-love-manatees/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/five-reasons-to-love-manatees/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 16:00:28 +0000 Katie Green http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11006

November is the month for cozy sweaters and cold weather. Sadly, manatees don’t have the luxury of going out and buying warmer clothes to prepare for winter weather. Beginning in November, many manatees make their way from the cooling Mid-Atlantic coast to the warm waters around Florida. That is why November has the honor of being Manatee Awareness Month!

This month got off to a great start with Polar Bear Week, we just didn’t think November could get any better — but it did — with Manatee Awareness Month! To celebrate our favorite sea cow, here are a few reasons why we love these gentle, easy going marine mammals.

1. Manatees are amazing mothers.

Manatees are pregnant with their young for about 12 months (and we thought nine months was a long time). For up to two years after birth, manatee calves are completely dependent on their mothers for food and protection. Although manatees only give birth every 2 to 5 years, sea cow mothers are excellent at the job. Raising their young is quite the time commitment, making manatees some of the most dedicated mothers out there.

2. Manatees are mermaids. 

During Christopher Columbus’s first trip to the Americas, his company recorded a sighting of three mermaids in the waters surrounding the island of Haiti. He reported seeing these mermaids rise from the sea near his route. Later it was discovered that these mythical mermaids were most likely manatees. Manatees have vertebrae in their neck allowing them to turn their heads similar to humans, and can raise themselves out of the water by performing “tail stands” in shallow areas. Sea cows also have finger-like bones on their front limbs which can resemble arms and hands. With these characteristics, we can see why it would be easy to confuse manatees and mermaids. Mermaids are pretty cool, but manatees are just as magical.

3. Manatees know how to relax. 

These calming sea cows live life at a slower pace. Manatees generally swim at a pace of about three to five miles per hour. When they aren’t feeding or traveling, manatees will spend the majority of their time resting. Unlike most humans, they have time to fit in a few small naps throughout the day and night. While resting, manatees can be fully submerged without taking a breath for up to 20 minutes! These are the kind of animals we would want to spend a vacation with, taking it slow and relaxing 24/7.

4. Manatees have exceptional senses. 

Manatees have relatively small eyes in relation to their large body. What their eyes lack in size, they make up for in utility. Manatees have a retractable membrane to protect their eyes while also allowing them to see very well. Although these gentle giants have no visible, outward ear structures, they have large inner ear bones that promote strong hearing.

5. Manatees hate the cold. 

The only thing manatees hate more than a fast-paced lifestyle is the cold winter weather. Manatees head for shallow, warmer water in the colder months beginning in November. Due to their low metabolic rates and low body fat, they are unable to survive in water colder than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite their large size, manatees have very minimal body fat making them extra sensitive to cooling temperatures in the winter months.

Manatees are wondrous and gentle creatures that are, sadly, endangered. Because they are unable to survive in the cold, manatees must make the difficult journey towards warmer water each year. Boat strikes are one of the biggest threats to migrating manatees. November is the month to raise awareness about the declining manatee population and discover what you can do to help.

To help the sea cows, when boating, always obey posted speed zones and go slowly in shallow waters where manatees tend to rest, feed and migrate to. Watch for manatee signs and never throw trash, debris or fishing line overboard.

You can also help on land by picking up trash that could end up in the manatees’ habitats. Spending a few extra minutes at the end of your beach visit to clean up your surroundings can benefit manatees for a lifetime. The most important way you can help manatees is to always be respectful. If you are lucky enough to see a manatee in the wild, never disturb them. Admiring from afar is safest for you and the manatees.

Interested in seeing more awesome manatee photos and learning more about our favorite sea cows? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We will be sharing fun facts all month long. Happy Manatee Awareness Month! 

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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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