Our regular Science and the SeaTM radio program presents marine science topics in an engaging two-minute story format. Our script writers gather ideas for the radio program from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute's researchers and from our very popular college class, Introduction to Oceanography, which we teach to hundreds of non-science majors at The University of Texas at Austin every year. Our radio programs are distributed at to commercial and public radio stations across the country.
The giant clam has had a bit of an image problem: It’s been considered a killer. The largest species can weigh more than 400 pounds, and it can span four feet. According to legends in the South Pacific and Indian oceans, the clam sometimes drowns divers by clamping down on them with its giant maw.
The egg of a red drum, a popular sport fish, is only about the size of a pinhead. Yet those tiny eggs can play a big role in the ecology of bays and estuaries.
Some eggs will hatch into new red drum. But most of the eggs -- about 90 percent -- will be eaten by other organisms. The eggs supply key nutrients, including essential fatty acids, which are needed for proper growth and development. In fact, the eggs appear to be an important source of these compounds for much of the marine food chain.
Chesapeake Bay appears to be coming back from the dead a little earlier these days. In particular, “dead zones” in the southern part of the bay are ending earlier than they have in the last few decades. That could mean that efforts to protect the bay are paying off.
At its height, California’s abalone industry brought in millions of pounds of the tasty sea snails. But the heyday didn’t last long. The fleets brought in so many abalone that there weren’t many left. By the late 1970s, the industry had crashed -- and so had the abalone populations.
The population that suffered the most was the white abalone. It’s one of a half-dozen species found along the coast of southern California and Baja California.
On the ice, the Atlantic walrus is slow and lumbering. In the water, though, it’s graceful, maneuvering with ease. Until recently, though, it wasn’t thought to be an especially deep swimmer. But a recent study found that the walrus can reach depths of a third of a mile.
The Atlantic walrus lives mainly in the cold waters around Greenland and Canada. There could be as many as 25,000 of them, living in several groups.
The walrus’s most prominent feature is its tusks. They’re used for defense, to cut through ice, and to help pull the walrus out of the water.
Blue mussels are riding the winds across the North Sea. They’re not taking up wind surfing, though. Instead, they’re colonizing the bases of offshore wind turbines. Over the next couple of decades, that could boost the mussel population, with ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.
The North Sea is between Great Britain and northern Europe. Winds there are strong and steady, making it an ideal location for wind farms. At the end of 2017, in fact, it was home to about 70 percent of Europe’s offshore wind capacity. And thousands more turbines are scheduled to be installed there.
When the glaciers retreated from around present-day Seattle at the end of the last ice age, they left some big holes in the ground. Today, those holes form Puget Sound -- a network of basins and channels in northwestern Washington. The sound is home to an amazing variety of marine life. But the numbers have been dwindling.
Even if you’ve never seen an ocean, you’ve probably felt one -- in the form of rain. A good bit of the rain that falls over land comes from the oceans. Eventually, some of that water makes its way back to the oceans, beginning the cycle all over again.
The blue whale may be changing its tune. Recordings made over the last couple of decades show that the whales are “talking” at a lower pitch. And it’s possible that the changes are intentional.
The world’s largest animal produces a variety of sounds. Some are short -- like individual words or syllables. Others are longer -- “songs” that can be heard for miles. Biologists aren’t sure just what the sounds mean. They could play a role in mating, foraging, or even in keeping a comfortable distance between individuals.
This is a bad time to be a coral reef. In the last couple of decades, rising water temperatures have caused massive “bleaching” events around the globe. That’s killed a large fraction of the world’s reefs. Today, though, marine biologists are looking at ways to give Mother Nature a hand -- in large part by making better coral.
Corals are symbiotes. The coral animals, known as polyps, have colonies of algae living inside them. The algae are protected from predators, and, in return, they produce food for the polyps.