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.

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.

February 1, 2016
Rabbitfishes have been observed watching out for one another while searching for food. Credit: BS Thurner Hof, 2005, GNU Free Documentation License

Fish often stick together for protection from predators. Staying within a school of fish is usually safer than swimming alone. But it turns out that some fish lend a helping fin when it comes to feeding as well.

January 1, 2016
Male elephant seals take competition for mates very seriously, but rarely get into actual physical fights. Credit: Robert Schwemmer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Breeding season can be brutal — even bloody — for male elephant seals. These heavyweights take the competition for mates very seriously, with both vocal and physical threats to other males. Sometimes they rear up to show their height, and sometimes they slam their chests onto the sand to send intimidating vibrations into the ground. But despite all this posturing, actual physical fights occur less than five percent of the time in elephant seal colonies.

December 1, 2015
Juvenile smalltooth sawfish in the Charlotte Harbor estuarine system, Florida. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

If a species on the brink of extinction could learn to clone itself, that nifty trick could improve its chances for survival. And that’s exactly what scientists have discovered some smalltooth sawfish are doing in Florida — reproducing without mating. This critically endangered species is one of five species of sawfish, creatures that look like a cross between a shark, a ray and a chainsaw blade. Sawfish have a long, flat snout with widely spaced teeth that protrude in a line on either side, an arrangement that is reminiscent of a saw.

November 1, 2015
Australian scientists looking for larval lobsters discovered a group of underwater volcanoes, shown in the relief map above. Credit: Australia’s Marine National Facility

Sometimes scientists go searching for one thing, only to stumble upon something completely unexpected. That’s how one group of researchers recently discovered a collection of underwater volcanoes about 150 miles off the coast of Sydney, Australia.

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