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.
In July of 1969, a small submarine and its six-man crew got stuck. They didn’t run aground, though. Instead, they were caught in a swirling eddy in the Gulf Stream, the current of warm water that flows along the East Coast. The sub needed to surface so it could be towed back into the flow of the Gulf Stream.
Later, scientists discovered what caused the eddy: an underwater mound known as the Charleston Bump. It’s about a hundred miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, on the edge of the continental shelf.
Seagrass beds provide a home for many species of fish. The fish can hide from predators in the blades of grass, and find food in the sand and mud on the bottom. But when the beds get thinner and patchier, the fish thin out, too -- there are fewer fish, and fewer species of fish. So it’s important to keep seagrass beds intact -- splitting them up is bad for the entire ecosystem.
You don’t need hurricanes, tropical storms, or nor’easters to get coastal flooding. It can happen in the middle of a sunny day, with not a storm cloud in sight.
These are known as “nuisance” floods. They occur around high tide, when the local sea level is at its highest. They don’t cause major damage, but they can make life inconvenient. They can cover roads, fill basements, kill lawns, and overwhelm storm drains. That costs time and money. And they’re becoming more common across almost the entire American coastline, especially the east.
There aren’t many worms that you could truthfully describe as “beautiful.” One of the few is found in the most colorful environments on Earth: coral reefs. It’s known as the Christmas tree worm because it looks like a colorful little fir tree. And it comes in an amazing variety of hues: red, blue, purple, yellow, and many others.
The colorful dwarf hawkfish has a colorful life story. Found on coral reefs from Australia to Japan, it lives in harems -- one large male with an entourage of several females. If the male gets greedy, though, things can change. One of the females can become a male and take half of the harem. And researchers recently found that if the new male is challenged by another male, he can change back to a female.
The hawkfish isn’t the only fish that can change sex. In fact, it’s a fairly common trait, especially among fish that live on reefs.
In July 1879, the USS Jeannette left San Francisco, headed for the north pole. No one had reached the pole yet, and scientists suspected it was ice free, with a ring of ice around it. Just two months later, though, the ship was frozen fast in the ice. It floated along for almost two years before the ice crushed it. Crewmembers then faced a long trek across sea and land that killed 20 of them -- only 13 survived.
Dolphins are among the “chattiest” creatures in the oceans. They use sound to find and catch food, as part of their courtship rituals, and just to stay in touch with other dolphins.
Many of those sounds are short clicks and high-pitched squeaks. And a team of researchers is using computers to pick out patterns of these sounds produced by different species of dolphins and whales.
We all know that El Niño can have a big impact on the weather here in the United States. But El Niño’s effects aren’t limited to the U.S. They can alter the climate across the entire planet. In fact, an especially powerful El Niño may have triggered the deadliest famine in history.
The famine lasted from 1876 to ’78. It probably killed more than 50 million people. Most of the victims were in China, but there were many in Brazil, India, and parts of Africa as well.
To keep tabs on the health of whales, marine biologists sometimes catch the “snot” from the whales’ blowholes -- a mixture of water, mucus, and other substances. And in recent years, they’ve found a new way to catch it: with drones.
The small remote-controlled vehicles fly above a whale and wait for it to clear its lungs. A plate or dish then catches some of the material expelled through the blowhole. Biologists check the “blow” for the whale’s DNA, hormones, algae, bacteria, and other substances.
The right name can make all the difference in a marine organism’s reputation. Few, for example, could resist Wunderpus photogenicus -- the “photogenic wonderful octopus.” It has a reddish-brown body marked by patterns of white stripes and spots. And it can contort its body to resemble other creatures.
Wonderpus is found around the western rim of the Pacific Ocean, southward from the Philippines. Its body is only a few inches long, while its arms can span more than a foot.