Marine Life

Courtesy Sönke Johnsen

Sönke Johnsen was always driven by art. As a youth he captured documentary photos on the streets of Pittsburgh and developed them in a homemade dark room. Later he practiced and taught modern dance. But Johnsen's pursuit of artistic awe led him on a surprising path toward biology. Today, as a professor of biology at Duke University, he plunges thousands of feet under the sea, discovering mysterious marine animals that hide in plain sight. He has won multiple awards for his scientific writing, teaching, and mentorship.

A champion tiger shark at a fish rodeo in 1988
Joel Fodrie / UNC IMS

Over the past 30 years, the size of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico has been shrinking. Drastically. Some sharks are 70 percent smaller.

The findings come from the University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina's Institute of Marine Sciences.

Researchers came up with a novel way of gathering the historical data. While there wasn't any academic database that collected such information, local newspapers in the Gulf region have been publishing the results of fishing competitions for years.

A picture of a scientist examining lionfish eggs in a beaker.
NOAA

If Congress passes the president's proposed 2015 budget, North Carolina's coast could lose a century-old marine lab.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's lab in Beaufort is on the chopping block.

Ciaran Clayton is a spokeswoman for NOAA.

“The current cost per year to operate and maintain the facility (is) about $1.6 million per year,” Clayton said. “It's an aging facility and would require additional funding to make those improvements, something that is just not currently in our current budget or in our future budgets.”

Duke researcher Ari Friedlaender attaching a suction-cup tag to the back of a blue whale off the coast of southern California.
Courtesy of Ari Friedlaender; NMFS Permit 14534

New research from Duke University looks at how whales are impacted by military sonar used in underwater training exercises.  The study was conducted off the coast of California and found that whales might avoid important feeding sites when exposed to mid-frequency sonar routinely produced at a nearby military training site.

Underwater photo of a whale
UNCG BioMusic

Music production is often considered a very “human” creation. But scientists have recently discovered the songs of mice, elephants, and other animals that human ears are unable to capture.  Scientists and musicians in Greensboro have been exploring the world of biomusic, music produced by nature, beneath the ocean surface.

Ari Friedlaender with Humpback whale in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica
Alison Stimpert, University of Hawaii

  Duke scientists are finding record numbers of humpback whales feeding on krill on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. A new report shows scientists observed more than 300 whales in a bay in May 2009. Scientists say a sheet of ice should have prevented whales from feeding on krill by that time of year. But Duke’s Ari Friedlaender says climate change is shortening the winter season and ice is forming slowly. So the krill are exposed for feeding.