Most news is very land-oriented. But what’s been happening lately underneath the waves? Peeing fishes and journeys to the bottom of the sea: this is the OddShrimp’s Ocean Report for March 2017.
1. A cautious yay for large sea mammals
The US Fish & Wildlife Service has recently announced its intention to change the conservation status of the lovable West Indian Manatee from “endangered” to “threatened”. This means that it’s still not out of trouble, of course, but it does mean that the population is on the rise again. After the humpback whale was removed from the IUCN Red List back in 2008, this does give some reason to be optimistic about conservation attempts for the big mammals of the sea.
2. A wee communication system
We humans are very visual creatures, but do to the efficient dispersal of chemicals in water many sea creatures rely much more on smell than we do. A group of behavioural ecologists from the University of Bern has found that a species of cichlid fishes uses their urine to communicate their physical prowess during displays of aggression. Indeed, the fishes were much better at guessing their opponent’s strength from their pee than from their looks. Their looks aren’t bad though.
3. Life may have gotten a bit older
The origin of life is still a bit of a mystery, but some scientists believe it started around so-called hydrothermal vents (deep-sea geysers that eject hot, mineral-rich water into the ocean). A new piece of evidence published in Nature in support of this account has been recovered from Quebec in the form of (probably) bacterial microfossils from a deep sea environment. The age of these fossils (at least 3.77 billion years old, and perhaps older) means that the belong to the earliest traces of life ever found.
4. The Okeanos Explorer
The deep sea remains woefully underexplored. Luckily, the US Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has funded an expedition to chart the deep-sea habitats around the Samoa Islands in the central Pacific. The first part of the expedition has just finished – mission logs, pictures and background information can be found on the website. Part two will begin in April. The main goal of the expedition is to map sponge and coral communities, so I’ll end this first edition of the OddShrimp’s Ocean Report with a little tribute to a sponge.