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.
A hundred million years ago, Kansas was inhabited by some creatures with big, sharp teeth: sharks up to 30 feet long, a fish that’s been described as a tarpon with fangs, and a 45-foot dinosaur that was one of the deadliest predators on the planet.
That’s because Kansas was at the bottom of a sea that stretched from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the Western Interior Sea, it was up to a thousand miles wide. Its warm, shallow waters supported an abundance of life, including giant clams, giant fish, and giant dinosaurs.
The polar bear is more than just a big mammal; it’s an icon for an entire region -- it’s hard to think of the Arctic without picturing these beautiful creatures. Yet it’s also a symbol for how that region is changing. A warmer climate is reducing the amount of sea ice in the Arctic, which could lead to a big reduction in polar bear populations.
No bear is bigger than the polar bear -- an adult male can weigh up to three-quarters of a ton. To maintain that size, polar bears spend much of their time hunting seals, which are rich in fat and calories.
When you bite into an ear of corn, you’re after the juicy kernels. But if you get a little too enthusiastic, you can get some of the cob, too.
One type of fish always bites into the cob. The parrotfish eats the living parts of coral, as well as algae on the coral. To get the good stuff, though, it has to bite into the coral skeleton -- a structure that’s like rock. That’s tough on the teeth. But a recent study says those teeth are well designed for the job. They’re hard, stiff, and they seldom break.
If zombies ever run out of brains to munch on, they might look to the sea for more. They can find brains that are up to six feet tall and live for almost a millennium. The brains might be a little crunchy, though -- they’re corals, so they consist of a hard skeleton with a thin coating of living organisms.
Brain corals are generally round or oblong, with a wrinkled surface that looks like the contours of a human brain. They’re found in tropical waters in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, parts of the Atlantic, and elsewhere.
The big ships that ply the Indian Ocean and South China Sea help power the world’s economy. And they also may help power the weather. In particular, they may “seed” the formation of tall clouds that produce lightning -- twice as much lightning along their shipping lanes as in the surrounding ocean.
Researchers were mapping lightning strikes in that part of the world when they noticed something odd: two straight lines where there were far more lightning strikes than average. They compared those maps with traffic along the shipping lanes, and found that the two matched perfectly.
We humans have been known to eat some pungent foods, from boiled cabbage to brussels sprouts to limburger-and-onion sandwiches. But a mollusk that lives in the mud at the bottom of a Philippine lagoon tops them all. It gets by on hydrogen sulfide -- a nasty gas that smells like rotten eggs. Or to be more precise, bacteria that live in its gills consume the hydrogen sulfide and convert it to a more palatable form.
Many marine creatures hang out in beds of seagrass or kelp to hide from predators or prey. But the leafy seadragon beats them all. It’s covered with leafy appendages that make it look like a bit of kelp. And it floats along with the currents just like the kelp, so it’s hard for either prey or predator to pick it out.
The heart of a typical adult human can pump about 2,000 gallons of blood per day. But that’s anemic compared to the pumping capacity of a sponge -- the living kind, not the kind you use to wash off your kitchen cabinets. The amount of water it pumps can be up to 20,000 times the volume of its own body. For a good-sized sponge, that can be almost 20,000 gallons a day.
James Bond, Indiana Jones, and other action heroes can’t seem to avoid waterfalls. They plummet down them, or they just miss them, narrowly avoiding a gruesome fate.
But no hero has taken the plunge down the world’s tallest waterfall -- and probably won’t anytime soon. That’s because it’s under water -- a two-mile drop between Greenland and Iceland.
When sea otters decided to move into Glacier Bay in Alaska, they didn’t mess around. They first appeared in the bay in the 1990s -- more than two centuries after they’d been hunted to near extinction. But by the time of the most recent census, in 2012, the population had soared to more than 8,000 -- an increase of more than 40 percent per year.