Articles

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.

December 1, 2016

Cancer isn’t generally contagious, but the leukemia ravaging some soft shell clam populations on the East Coast has broken that rule. Scientists recently discovered that the cancer cells killing soft shell clams in New York, Maine and Canada’s Prince Edward Island are all clones of one another.

November 1, 2016

Dining on a jellyfish may not seem too appetizing to most creatures, considering the danger of getting stung. But these gelatinous blobs are a major menu item for various lobster species. The question is: how do lobsters protect themselves from those venomous stingers? Scientists sought the answer in the most logical place: lobster poop. It turns out that lobsters have evolved several adaptations that allow them to consume jellyfish without harming themselves in the process.

October 1, 2016

Many predators hunt by camouflaging themselves and waiting for unwary prey to swim close enough to become a meal. One species of frogfish managed to hide from scientists, too. Only in 2015 did researchers rediscover this color-changing critter dwelling in tropical and subtropical waters and determine that it was an entirely new genus and species, Porophryne erythrodactylus. What makes frogfish such successful predators is their ability to completely blend into the sponges and corals where they lay in wait, so it’s incredibly difficult for unsuspecting prey to spot them.

September 1, 2016

When the agonizing sting of a jellyfish shoots up your leg, all you can think about is stopping the pain. But does that mean ice or heat? Vinegar or urine? A couple of scientists in Hawaii decided to find out what actually works.

August 1, 2016

Nearly all of the world’s seven sea turtle species are facing a high risk of extinction, in part because of illegal trade of their eggs and shells. Yet scientists still know very little about the lives of these turtles, making it difficult to accurately track their populations and choose successful conservation strategies. One of the most basic tools marine biologists lacked was a way to calculate a turtle’s age — until now. The solution has been right in front of them the whole time, on the backs of the turtles themselves.

July 1, 2016

The hagfish is one of those animals that scientists aren’t quite sure how to classify. These bottom-feeders have a skull but no backbone. Like lampreys, they have no jaw, but then lampreys do have vertebrae. Hagfish look like eels, but with naked skin instead of scales. They can survive up to 36 hours without oxygen — while their hearts keep beating — and they’ve been around for more than 350 million years, long, long before the first dinosaurs ever walked the Earth.

June 1, 2016

You might remember the story about the mountaineer who amputated his forearm so he could survive after his hand became trapped under a boulder. But imagine amputating a limb to escape a predator — again and again and again? Such is the everyday life of the otherworldly-looking lion’s mane sea slug.

May 1, 2016
Zooplankton, crustacean larva seen under a microscope. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, photographer: Matt Wilson/Jay Clark.

Tiny marine creatures known as zooplankton feed on phytoplankton, which use photosynthesis to create their food. Since phytoplankton tend to hang out at the ocean’s surface to absorb the sun’s energy, zooplankton head there for their meals each night. But when morning arrives, zooplankton become targets for predators, so they move to deeper waters during the day.

April 1, 2016
Severely bleached coral in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Carrying a bit of extra fat isn’t usually considered ideal among the human population, but for corals, extra fat could be a lifesaver. The more fat reserves a coral has, the stronger its recovery appears to be after severe stress.

March 1, 2016
The larger Pacific striped octopus has a unique hunting style. Credit: Roy Caldwell/UC Berkeley

Of more than 300 species of octopuses, a few outliers are bound to do things a little differently. Meet the sneaky — but surprisingly social — larger Pacific striped octopus, who has some unconventional ways of taking both his meals and his mates. While most octopus species seize their prey with all eight arms before the critter can escape, the Pacific striped octopus scrunches itself together and stealthily approaches its prey from behind. It then extends just one tentacle to tap the prey, such as a shrimp, on its far side.

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