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.

October 1, 2015
Blue whales can weigh up to 200 tons, yet scientists are only beginning to learn about their migration patterns. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

You might think the largest – and perhaps loudest – animal ever to roam the planet would not be hard to track. After all, blue whales can grow up to 100 feet long, weigh up to 200 tons and produce sounds that travel 1,000 miles. And yet, until recently, scientists had difficulty figuring out where these massive krill-eating creatures traveled. Now, a single female named Isabela has offered some clues.

September 1, 2015
The white object at the tip of this sea star’s arm is being ejected from its body. Credit: University of Southern Denmark

Imagine that every time a veterinarian microchipped a dog or cat, the animal found a way to expel the microchip from its body. It turns out that is exactly what a sea star (aka starfish) does with a foreign object in its body. It pushes the object to the tip of an arm and then ejects it from its body.

August 1, 2015
A green sea turtle in Hawaii. Credit: Claire Fackler, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Shortly after sea turtles hatch and enter the waves, they vanish from sight for the next two to ten years. Scientists often call these the “lost years” because no one is sure where the turtle toddlers go during this time. Until recently, many marine scientists believed the young turtles ride the waves until they gain the strength or navigation skills to actively swim. But scientists wanted to find out for sure, especially since sea turtles are endangered. Knowing where they are going and how they are getting there might make it easier to protect them.

July 1, 2015
The spined pygmy shark, which is similar to the smalleye pygmy shark, also uses bioluminescense for camouflage. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not all sharks are at the top of the food chain; some are small enough to be a potential meal for dozens of other species. Diminutive sharks as small as 8 inches long, such as the smalleye pigmy shark, have evolved characteristics to stay off the menu of predators.

June 1, 2015
A golden crab with a group of Venus flower basket glass sponges. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The white vase-like sea sponge known as the Venus flower basket would seem incredibly fragile since it’s made of silica, the main ingredient of glass. Further, the only thing keeping this glass sponge anchored to the sea floor is a tuft of tiny glass structures called spicules, each about the thickness of a human hair.

May 1, 2015
A sea otter mom and her baby. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As utterly exhausting as it is to care for a newborn, most moms would never dream of abandoning their child. But what if it were a question of life and death…for the baby or the mom? That’s the dilemma that sea otter moms sometimes face when they can’t provide enough calories to meet their pups’ incredibly high energy demands. Researchers at a sea otter pup rehabilitation program measured the metabolic rates and daily caloric needs of sea otter pups and found the mothers need to provide more than 222,000 Calories to raise pups from birth to independence.

April 1, 2015
Almost one million years ago, North Atlantic currents and northern hemisphere ice sheets underwent changes. Credit: NASA

Just under a million years ago, a major pattern in Earth’s climate suddenly changed. Instead of having an ice age about every 41,000 years, the cycle switched to about every 100,000 years – and the cold periods had even lower average temperatures than the previous ones. What caused the interval between ice ages to double?

March 1, 2015
This sea star is suffering from wasting disease, which causes sea stars to disintegrate in a matter of days. Credit: Kevin Lafferty, USGS.

When a sea star (a.k.a. starfish) develops wasting syndrome, the disease hits hard and fast. Lesions appear on the star’s tough outer skin. Then the tissue around those white sores begins to decay. The sea stars “deflate” and lose control of their five limbs, which curl and twist and eventually begin disintegrating. The starfish gradually “melts” into nothing.

February 1, 2015
A purple sea urchin. Credit: Claire Fackler, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When the going gets tough, purple sea urchins appear to get tougher, or at least tough enough to possibly cope with climate change. Purple sea urchins are referred to as a “keystone” species because the ecosystem needs enough of them to feed marine mammals, fish, seabirds and other predators, but not so many that they overrun the place. Increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere may threaten that balance. As oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, the water becomes more acidic, which decreases calcium carbonate levels.

January 1, 2015
This female octopus spent four and one half years brooding her eggs on a ledge near the bottom of Monterey Canyon. Image credit: © 2007 MBARI

At 21 months, elephant pregnancies last more than twice as long as human pregnancies, and frilled sharks carry their embryos for 42 months – twice as long as elephants. But the deep-sea octopus has every animal on the planet beat when it comes to her unborn young. Researchers recently observed a deep-sea octopus mother brooding her eggs for 53 months – a whopping four and a half years.