Stories tagged marine biology

Mar
14
2011

Those sassy whales
Those sassy whalesCourtesy Currier & Ives
Word on the street is that sperm whales may have individual names. I hope so, frankly, because I'm sick of calling them ... that.

Sperm whales, it seems, have calls that are unique to the region they live in. So whales in the Caribbean might have a different call than whales living in the South Pacific. But there are parts of sperm whale calls that are, on the surface, the same in whales around the world.

I say, "on the surface" not as some ocean-related pun, but because there's a part of the whale's call—five clicks at the beginning of a call—that seem to be totally unique to individual whales. All whales make the five clicks, but if you analyze the sound in detail, there are actually subtle variations in the sounds that are unique to the whale making them. Because it comes at the beginning of each phrase, or "coda string," and because the variations are perceptible from every direction (some whale calls sound different depending on how the listener is oriented to the caller), some scientists think that the clicks could represent the "names" of individual whales, who are identifying themselves as they call out.

Pretty neat, huh?

PS—"Pretty neat," but not completely neat, because I probably can't distinguish between the whales' clicks. Here, then, is a short list of names for any whales interested in adopting more standard monikers:
-Herman
-Squid Blood
-Crybaby
-Fudgie
-Moby II
-Gentle Jeff
-Spermy
-Winston

There are, like, dozens of other possible names. These are just the first to come to mind.

Named the Kuroshio Sea, this enormous tank at the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan is over 30 feet deep, 110 feet wide, and nearly 90 feet long. It holds more than 8000 tons of water, equal to about three Olympic-sized swimming pools. Eighty local species of fish are on display here including manta rays, and the world's largest fish, the whale shark.

You have to admit, this is some of the best reality television you've seen lately.

Mar
20
2009

Another giant worm: This is as friendly as they get.
Another giant worm: This is as friendly as they get.Courtesy Santheo
OMG! Friday already? Where did the week go? You know how it is: it’s Sunday, and you’re testing items in your refrigerator for freshness… and the next thing you know, it’s Friday, and you’re lying on the floor in front of the fridge! It makes one wonder if he should seriously reevaluate his life.

What’s worse (worst!) is that I almost missed a Friday Extravaganza. Think about the repercussions—I could be rereading my own posts some time in the future, and I would wonder why I skipped an extravaganza. Did I just get bored with them? Was something wrong at the time? A personal crisis? I wouldn’t know what happened! I don’t want that. So an extravaganza…

It works out pretty well actually, because the first think I thought when I lifted my head off the floor and looked into the open refrigerator was, “worms.” And this week just happened to be a slightly wormy week in the news. A slightly giant-wormy week.

Check it out, y’all: Giant sand worms!

Apparently, back in olden times (the Permian period, before the dinosaurs), there used to be 3-foot-long, six-inch wide worms! The reason we don’t have cool giant worm skeletons in our museums, of course, is that worms don’t have skeletons. And all that soft, wormy tissue doesn’t fossilize very well at all. (That’s why it’s such a big deal when we find ”mummified” dinosaurs too—soft tissue almost always rots before it can fossilize.) Short of the rare cases where soft tissue does fossilize, there are other ways to find evidence of soft, extinct animals. In this case, paleontologists found the worm’s fossilized burrow. How about that?

The articles I found didn’t provide a lot of details about the worm, except that it was big, lived underground (and underground worm?!? What?!) in part of what is now England, and it’s a completely new species. Giant arthropods (like huge millipedes) had been known to live millions of years ago, but nothing like this huge worm.

Three-foot worms… yuckers. Good thing we don’t have anything like that around today, am I right?

Wrong!! Wrong wrong wrong! This is an EXTRAVAGANZA, y’all, and would never stop with just one worm during an extravaganza! So put this in your brain and shake it: There are giant worms alive today, and they’re way, way worse than you think!

Look.

See, I would have gone on living without knowing about the giant worms among us, if I hadn’t seen this little article about how a creature wreaking havoc on a British aquarium. (It’s a Friday Giant British Worm Extravaganza, I guess.) Something was chewing apart the coral in the aquarium, and devouring its fish. The aquarium staffers tried to trap the culprit, and to fish it out with bait. The traps, however, were torn apart overnight, and the baited fishing line was bitten through. In the end, they resorted to dismantling the artificial reef. Underneath all the rocks, they found a four-foot-long reef worm!

Whoa! Four feet? That beats the prehistoric worm even!

But, come on now… we humans are prone to exaggeration. The worm couldn’t be that impressive right?

No. Wrong.

I couldn’t find anything about “giant sea worms,” but searching for “reef worm” brought up the term “bristle worm.” And “bristle worm” makes sense, because the article described the worm as having bizarre-looking jaws, and thousands of bristles, each of which are able to inflict a sting that results in “permanent numbness.”

Then I found this page, which informed me that bristle worms are complex creatures, with “two to four pairs of eyes, sensory organs, a mouth, and a brain.” (I’ll let you know right now—I don’t approve of worms having brains.) And, yes, they have bristles, which can inflict extremely painful stings. The article doesn’t say anything about the bristles being poisonous, but posits that the painful sting could be caused by calcium carbonate or silica from the bristles. This page confirmed that the worms can hitch rides on rocks into aquariums, where they grown quickly, and can become a nuisance (to say the least, I guess).

Wikipedia was the next step, of course. Wikipedia teaches us that the worms will wait buried in sand or gravel until prey swims along. The worm will then attack with such speed that the prey is sometimes sliced in half by its claws/jaws. And while an average size for the worm is about 3 feet, they have been known to grow up to nine-feet-long!

What? What kind of world is this?

Also… this particular type of bristle worm is referred to as a “Bobbit worm.” What’s that all about? I’ll tell you: according to this site, at least, Bobbit worms are so nicknamed for the fact that, after mating, female worms will often “attacks the male’s penis and feeds it to her young.” That’s right, you remember now: Bobbit.

(It occurs to me that the timing in this anecdote is a little off—exactly how would you feed the penis to your young immediately after mating? But whatever.)

Oh, man. Worm extravaganza.

See? See the Bobbit worm?

Sure, it’s fish now. Next time it could be (will be) you. Happy weekend.

Sep
16
2008

A colossal squid's ghost: Caught on film for the first time!
A colossal squid's ghost: Caught on film for the first time!Courtesy DYFL
This is nothing new, but Popular Science has a nice little photo series on some of the cool features of the colossal squid.

So check it out here, and keep the giant mollusks foremost in your mind.

Jun
30
2008

I hope you like what you see: because it seems like there's a lot of it in your future.
I hope you like what you see: because it seems like there's a lot of it in your future.Courtesy kqedquest
They’re everywhere these days! Giant squid, I mean.

The carcass of a 25-foot giant squid floating off the coast of California was picked up by a research vessel last week.

The body was only just brought to a marine research station, so for the time being all that has been said about it is that it’s big, weighs hundreds of pounds, and has tentacles “as big around as a person’s leg.” Cool, as usual.

How is it that we’re so flush with giant squid corpses these days? What’s the deal here? More squid moving around and dying? More squid? Or more boats and people, and better communication? Or do I just pay too much attention to giant squid (as if that were possible).

More posts on giant squid and their ilk.

Jun
24
2008

Opps! There's one!: So I guess it's 17 now.
Opps! There's one!: So I guess it's 17 now.Courtesy Minnete Layne
Well, if you were feeling anxious about there being no more undiscovered sea monsters, chill out. There are still some out there. About 18, to be specific.

See, ever since Science’s parents (Magic and Critical Thought) stopped putting Science’s stuff up on the fridge, Science has really been going out of its way to make sure we all know how special it is.

We get it, Science, you’re great. Take it easy.

As if.

Science, in its latest flailing and pathetic play for attention, has announced that there are indeed more huge, unknown sea creatures out there, and it knows that there are 18 of them.

Okay, Science, whatever you say. Act like you know.

But, no, Science goes on to explain, here’s my reasoning: If we first decide that a body length exceeding 1.8 meters defines a large sea creature (which, by the way, makes JGordon a large sea creature by 3 cm when he goes swimming), we can then look at the rate at which large sea creatures have been discovered in the last 180 years or so. The rate of discovery for large sea creatures remains pretty strong, and if you consider the places large sea creatures could be hiding, deep in the oceans, or under polar ice, say, it’s very likely that there are quite a few of them left to find. Using some flashy statistical modeling, Science predicts that there could be as many as 18 of these large sea creatures still undiscovered.

Science goes on to emphasize that there probably aren’t any monsters hiding out in lakes and lochs, and that accounts of sea serpents and their ilk can probably all be explained by known creatures, like colossal squid, and 30 plus-foot oarfish. Ah, thanks for that, Science.

Still, Science doesn’t hold all the cards. It may know that there are 18 monsters still hiding out there, but I know exactly what they are. Deal with it, Science.

Anguirus
Baragon
Destroyah
Ebirah
Gabara
Ganime
Gigan
Gorosaurus
Kamoebas
King Caesar
King Ghidorah
Kumonga
Megalon
Minilla
Mothra
Rodan
Urkel
Varan

Sep
18
2007

Underwater mobile home: Aquarius is the underwater home for researchers for their current nine-day mission off the coast of Florida. The tube is about the same size as a school bus.
Underwater mobile home: Aquarius is the underwater home for researchers for their current nine-day mission off the coast of Florida. The tube is about the same size as a school bus.
As the like to say in “The Godfather,” do you want to sleep with the fishes?

A team of six scientists – aquanauts – Monday started a nine-day project where they’re living and working 24-7 60 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s reefs. They’ve set up Aquarius Reef Base about nine miles southeast of Key Largo.

And you can be there virtually with an Internet link up. Real-time updates and video feeds are available at www.oceanslive.org or www.uncw.edu/nurc/aquarius.

Crew quarters: Inside Aquarius, scientists can watch what their partners are doing out on the ocean floor. And we can watch what they're doing through Internet connections. (Photos from www.uncw.edu/nurc/aquarius)
Crew quarters: Inside Aquarius, scientists can watch what their partners are doing out on the ocean floor. And we can watch what they're doing through Internet connections. (Photos from www.uncw.edu/nurc/aquarius)
The research will be focusing on the marine habitats around the reef and impacts that rising water temperatures and human pollution might be having on that environment.

Aquarius is school bus-sized tube with a diameter of nine feet that the aquanauts will be living in. And it’s actually been at that location for 21 years. Inside Aquarius, the researchers have bunk beds, showers, a microwave oven and computers to handle their Internet link ups.

Some of the experiments and research the aquanauts will be doing will gather data to compare with findings from earlier dives. A special focus on this dive will be to gather more information about sponges and soft corals of the area.