News

The Brainy Octopus

Octopuses have a relatively big brain just like other smart animals. But their highly complex nervous system evolved independently from vertebrates. Surprisingly, most of the neurons that do the computing for the brain are in the octopus’s arms. And that means they may have essentially nine brains, not one.

Scientists think it’s their long evolutionary history that explains their smarts. Cephalopods have been on earth for around 520 million years ago; the oldest known octopus fossil is about 330 million years old.

Investigations into the brains of octopuses found that they contain high levels of regulatory RNA molecules (microRNA), which could have helped them develop lots of different neurons and greater neuronal complexity. The scientists say“…the brains of cephalopods evolved greater complexity in the same way as vertebrate brains did – by using a lot more regulatory RNAs to control gene activity.”

Listen to a Podcast about octopus intelligence with author Sy Montgomery.

Love octopuses? OctoNation, the world’s largest octopus fan club may be the place for you.

New MBA Deep Sea Exhibit

In the April of 2022 the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) opened a new deep sea exhibit called Into the Deep: Exploring Our Undiscovered Ocean. “From football-sized giant isopods to transparent jellies that glow, the deep sea is brimming with life. Meet the mysterious and wonderful animals that thrive in the dark, cold — and mostly unexplored — world of the deep sea.”

New Coral Reef Outsmarts Climate Change

GOOD NEWS! Scientists discovered a new coral reef that’s in pristine condition.

The reef, off Tahiti, appears to be untouched by climate change. The reef sprawls approximately two miles and 30 meters (about 100 feet) to 65 meters in depth. This is deeper than the coral reefs we’re most familiar with, which include the Great Barrier Reef. At this depth the symbiotic algae living within the coral tissue can still thrive with less light than found at the surface.

See how the shape of the corals resemble rose petals? Scientists say the ’floral shape petals’ provide the coral more surface area and so they receive more light. It’s a clever way to work-around the warming shallow ocean due to climate change.

Who’s the Top Predator: Orca Killer Whale or Great White Shark?

What happens when top predators, Great White Sharks and Orcas, meet?

Dr. Sal Jorgensen and his colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have tagged great white sharks in the Central Coast of California for many years. They analyze long-term data from  tagged sharks, observe shark predatory behaviors, and killer whale occurrences at Southeast Farallon Islands. Using that data, they have clarified the frequency and consequences of interactions between white sharks and killer whales.

Whales May Be the Ultimate Ocean Engineers

The baleen whales, like humpback, blue and fin, consume huge quantities of food. And when they poop, they cycle massive amounts of nutrients back into the ecosystem.

A new study found that the large whales eat and poop far more than previously thought: they consume approximately triple the amount of food previously estimated. Scientists have seriously underestimated the role large whales play in ocean health.

Marine Flatworms Colors Send a Warning

Flatworms are some of the most colorful marine creatures. Their spectacular colors and patterns can be eye popping. Scuba divers and tide-poolers love to take pictures of them for good reason; they are dazzling.

These ferocious predators are found in all habitats, feeding on tunicates, small crustaceans, worms, and molluscs. Some species have coloration that mimics other animals or acts like camouflage. But most are very colorful and easy to see. This is an example of warning coloration (called aposematism), advertising that the flatworms are poisonous to eat. Some species contain tetrodotoxin: the same poison found in a number of other poisonous creatures, including puffer fish, some species of  frogs and the blue-ringed octopus.

Early Multicellular Animal

We always wonder where and when animal life began. Now, scientists in Scotland have found  microfossils in a primeval dry lake bed that might provide a clue. Those microfossils are truly ancient, dated to about one billion years ago. The fossils show two distinct types of cells, suggesting a link between unicellular organisms and multi-cellular animals.

It’s CODE RED For Our Ocean Planet

Catastrophic wildfires, destructive floods, intensifying hurricanes, heat waves, and drought. No matter where we live, we all know that climate change is happening. More than 200 of the world’s most influential climate scientists issued the 6th IPCC (United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report in August 2021 summarizing the science on the effects of climate change happening now.

Marine Creatures Die-Off In Heat Wave

The extreme heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest in July wasn’t just brutal on us it also killed an estimated billion coastal marine animals. It’s hard to grasp the extent of the mass die-off of mussels, oysters, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and many other species.

The ‘heat dome’ brought unprecedented high temperatures during some of the lowest tides of the year, exposing animals living along the shore to hours of sun and heat. What did those shores filled with dead animals mean for that ecosystem? All of the ecosystem services – like filtering of seawater, providing food for other species, including humans, and habitat for other species – disappeared.

Most intertidal animals are resilient and will likely recover. However, the climate crisis we’re in now means extreme weather will become more frequent and intense around the globe, making it harder for recovery. How extreme these kinds of events become is up to us. The time to act is NOW.

Disappearing Wild Bees

All wild bees, not just honey, are essential for good crop pollination providing up to two thirds of all pollination and they continue to disappear. Wild insect pollinators are key to maintaining biodiversity where they enable the reproduction of the majority of wild plants.

There are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide. In a recently published article, scientists reported that about a quarter of wild bee species haven’t been seen since the 1990’s when there was a dramatic increase in agricultural pesticide use.

The causes of the worldwide decline are many and mostly revolve around climate crisis and toxins. To learn more about bee culture check out our Buzzed on Bees feature where you’ll find lots of resources.