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 type of ray has come back from the dead—or at least the mostly dead. The tentacled butterfly ray inhabited the waters along the northern Indian Ocean, from Arabia to India. But it hadn’t been seen since 1986, near Pakistan. So it was listed as critically endangered and possibly extinct.
A “conveyor belt” in the Atlantic Ocean appears to be slowing down. And that could have a big impact on the climate, although it’s not clear just what that impact might be.
The North Atlantic Ocean is home to a rich diversity of life beneath the waves. But it’s also home to a rich diversity above the waves: seabirds. There are so many birds that scientists managed to have a patch of the ocean declared a marine protected area.
The birds inhabit a region that’s almost as big as Texas. It’s south of Greenland, from near the shore of Canada to the middle of the Atlantic.
During the Irish potato famines of the 19th century, many people survived by eating limpets—small animals that cling to rocks at the ocean’s edge. And when German troops occupied the island of Jersey during World War II, its people survived on a stew of limpets and curry powder.
What happens in the Arctic doesn’t always stay in the Arctic. Changes in conditions in the Arctic Ocean can have an impact on land as well. A loss of sea ice, for example, appears to increase the risk of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. Wildfires have been a growing problem in Washington, Oregon, and northern California for a couple of decades. Around Labor Day of 2020, for example, fires in Washington burned more than half a million acres in just 36 hours. And the 2021 fire season in California was the worst ever.
Davidson Seamount—an extinct underwater volcano off the coast of California—has been described as “an oasis of the deep.” It’s home to huge coral reefs—some of them more than a century old. It hosts crabs, many species of deep-sea fish, and big fields of sponges.
In the 1958 B-movie “The Blob,” Steve McQueen and the gang stop the blobby monster from absorbing people by freezing it. The Air Force then drops it on Arctic sea ice to keep it frozen. With the sea ice melting in a hurry, though, perhaps we should keep an eye out to make sure it doesn’t head back for land.
On the other hand, the warming climate has already given us an ocean “blob”: a giant pool of warm water off the Pacific coast. It killed huge numbers of marine organisms.
Big heat waves are hotter, more common, and cause more suffering than ever—and not just on land. Marine heat waves are a problem as well. Eight of the 10 largest ever seen have occurred since 2010—a result of Earth’s warming climate.
The White’s seahorse could be forgiven for feeling unwelcome. The seahorse is found mainly along the eastern coast of Australia. In the last couple of decades, though, its population has dropped by 90 percent. The main cause is a loss of habitat, but the seahorse has also been hurt by storms.
Researchers are trying to roll out a sort of welcome mat, though. They’re setting up “hotels” on the ocean floor that could become new seahorse habitats.
The Steller sea lion used to be a common sight along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to California. But for some reason, the sea lion’s population plunged. So in 1990, the sea lion was placed on the endangered species list, which gave it legal protections. Thanks to conservation efforts, the species in the eastern half of its range recovered. And in 2013, the eastern Steller sea lion was removed from the endangered list.