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.
Sailors have been telling tales of sea serpents for as long as they’ve been going to sea -- stories of long monsters that could pluck men from the deck of a ship.
There really are sea serpents, and they can be deadly. But instead of monsters as big as ships, they’re only a few feet long. They’re snakes -- relatives of the reptiles that slither across land.
A hurricane’s delicate cloud bands and dark eye make it look like a beautiful but deadly pinwheel spinning across the ocean.
If Earth were flat and motionless, hurricanes wouldn’t form. Air would flow from high pressure to low pressure in straight lines, like boulders rolling from a ring of mountains into a central valley.
There was a time when nesting Kemp’s ridley sea turtles covered some of the beaches of north-central Mexico as far as the eye could see. And thanks to intense conservation efforts, there’s hope that these turtles could blanket the beaches once again.
The Kemp’s ridley is the smallest sea turtle -- a couple of feet long, and weighing around a hundred pounds. It feeds in shallow waters from New England to the Yucatan Peninsula. But most of the turtles nest around Rancho Nuevo, Mexico.
Seahorses are fish and in scientific parlance, most of them belong to the genus Hippocampus. The name is from the Greek words for horse and sea monster.
The horse part is easy to understand. The long snout, the upright posture, and the angle of the head all resemble a horse. But the sea monster part doesn’t quite seem to fit. Seahorses move slowly, they’re not aggressive -- unless you happen to be a tasty shrimp -- and they’re small -- the largest are only about a foot long, while the smallest are no bigger than the tip of your little finger.
A small fish with a big sting is invading the coastal waters of the eastern United States. And that’s probably not good news for the species that already lived there.
The invader is the red lionfish. It’s a colorful character, with red, white, and maroon stripes. It has bushy fins, and a variety of appendages around its head and mouth. It also has rows of spines that can inject venom. The venom probably won’t kill you, but it produces a nasty sting.
A sponge is one of the simplest animals on Earth. In fact, its description hardly sounds like a fully formed animal at all. It has no muscles, no internal organs, and no nervous system. It simply anchors itself to the bottom of the ocean and waits for food to come along.
Perhaps because of this simplicity, sponges are a hearty lot. They’ve been around for at least 500 million years, and today, there are more than 5,000 species, scattered across all the oceans of the world. And they come in a lot of shapes and sizes -- from small, spiny lumps to long, narrow tubes.
The great white may be the bad boy of the shark world, but when it comes to size, weight, and sheer toothiness, another species puts it to shame. The whale shark is by far the largest fish on Earth. It can grow to 40 feet or longer and weigh more than 20 tons. An adult whale shark’s mouth is wide enough to swallow a person, and it has thousands of teeth.
But the whale shark is the gentle giant of its kind. It glides serenely through warm waters, feeding on small organisms and occasionally playing with divers.
The Lost City of Atlantis sits in the middle of the North Atlantic, about half a mile below the surface. And it’s been there for a good 30,000 years or longer.
No, it’s not that Atlantis, but it is something just as amazing: a forest of rock pillars, spires, and beehive-shaped structures that are spouting hot water into the ocean. It sits atop an underwater mountain known as the Atlantis Massif, so when scientists discovered it in late 2000, they named it Lost City.
You might think that the best swimmers in the ocean would be the fish that live out in the deep. But that turns out not to be the case. Some of the strongest swimmers are the young of fish that live on coral reefs. They’re strong enough to swim against the currents, and they have plenty of stamina.
The adult fish that live on coral reefs release their eggs around the reefs, then abandon them to the currents. The eggs are carried out to sea, where they can hatch and develop in relative safety -- away from the predators that swarm around reefs.
A coral reef is not only busy and colorful, it’s noisy. Fish make popping and grunting sounds, and the clicks of hundreds of shrimp can sound like frying bacon. To newborn fish living far away from the reef, these are the sounds of home -- a beacon that just might draw them in from miles away.
Adult fish release their eggs on the reefs. Tides and currents wash the eggs out to sea, which is a safer environment for the young fish to hatch and develop.