Bizarre Beastie News from the Oregon Coast, Other Oceans
By Terry Morse
(Newport, Oregon) – Every once in a while, Newport's Terry Morse pulls some wild and weird oceanic facts out of his scientific thinking cap. This week, he’s dug up some truly spectacular ones from the Oregon coast and other oceans around the world.
Heat Wave? If You're a Sea Star, "Drink plenty of fluids."
Sea stars in the intertidal zones can be subject to heat stress during midday low tides, but little is known about how they tolerate it. A recent laboratory study of the ocher sea star, Pisaster ochraceus, suggests that they may do this by "drinking plenty of fluids." In brief, when exposed to warm water at high tide and high air temperatures
One caveat: the laboratory stars were exposed to one simulated low tide a day, rather than the two they would experience in the wilds of Bodega Bay. Thus, it isn't entirely clear to what extent this water absorption occurs in free range sea stars, and whether it helps them cope with the heat at midday low tides.
As the Worm Turns
It has been known since the 1980s that “whale falls” - whale carcasses that sink to the ocean bottom - support a diverse community of scavenging organisms. In 2004, scientists discovered a genus of polychaete tubeworm, Osedax, in Monterey Bay that bores into whale bones and feeds off materials in the bones with the aid of symbiotic bacteria. It has been determined that these worms are in the same biological family, Siboglinidae, as the giant tube worms found at deep sea vents.
Subsequently, Osedax worms have been found nearly worldwide. In some species, dwarf males live as "harems" in the tubes of much larger females.
According to just-published research, there may be as many as 12 species of Osedax found in Monterey Bay alone, at depths between 30 and 3000 meters (100 - 10,000 feet). Because they were so recently discovered, it isn't known yet whether they specialize on whale bones or can be found on other carcasses as well, such as those of sharks or sea turtles.
You can download the newly published paper at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/7/74. Even if you don't want to read the technical details, it is worth looking at for the attractive color photos of 10 of the Monterey Bay species.
What a Mix-up!
According to a paper being delivered at a meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics (but not yet peer-reviewed and published), marine animals may cause as much ocean mixing as wind and tides, due to the motion of their bodies through the water. A significant portion of the mixing is purportedly due to tiny animals, such as krill, not ocean giants like whales and basking sharks. According to the Cal Tech scientists who conducted the research, the magnitude of the "biogenic mixing" may be great enough that it would have to be included in ocean and climate models used to study atmospheric phenomena such as El Nino, and global warming. Read about it at Science Daily's site.
It's Census Time Again
The ten-year-long Census of Marine Life, scheduled to end in 2010, continues to urn up an amazing variety of deep-sea organisms, including 9 species of dumbo squid (which swim with flaps that resemble the ears of Disney's Dumbo the Elephant), an oil-eating tubeworm, and an Antarctic Osedax whalebone worm.
Read all about it at Science Daily. Visit the Census of Marine Life website (http://www.coml.org/ to learn more about the Census, and to see photos and videos of some of the astounding creatures Census scientists have discovered.
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