Spot on Science: 2020 Aquatic Update

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Hey everyone, Margaret here coming to you from my home with a 2020 aquatic update. While most of us have been stuck inside on dry land, plenty of new discoveries have been made in the water world that I thought I would share with you.

Beginning with this! Yeah I know what is it? Did someone drop their ball of yarn in the ocean? Or maybe two dolphins were having a silly string fight? That would be fun, but nope, this is the longest animal ever discovered! It’s called a siphonophore. This noodle guy is made up of millions of interconnected clones called zooids. Each has its own role in the connected colony. The marine organism is related to jellyfish. At an estimated 150-feet long this siphonophore is believed to be the longest creature ever recorded.

It was discovered off the Ningaloo Coast in Western Australia by researchers with the Schmidt Ocean Institute and Western Australian Museum. During March the team used an underwater robot to complete 20 dives up to 4,500 meters deep and for a total of 181 hours of exploration. The researchers discovered not only the siphonophore, but also 30 other new underwater species. So cool!

Sticking to Australia, a March survey of the Great Coral Reef recently found that a large amount of it is suffering from bleaching. The research was done by scientists with the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University Bleaching is when algae living on a coral reef is pushed out, turning the coral white. See algae and coral have a symbiotic relationship. Symbiotic means they benefit each other. Without the algae, the coral is more likely to die.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there are a few things that can cause coral bleaching to take place - pollution, too much direct sunlight, and an increase in ocean temperature. February had the highest monthly temperatures for the reef since 1900 according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

The recent bleaching is the worst that has been seen in the area in at least the last five years, says the ARC Center of Excellence. Their researchers plan to return to the reef for research later in the year to see if the bleached coral has had a turn for the better or the worse.

Want to be part of helping out the coral reefs from the comfort of your couch? NASA recently launched a way for you to get involved. It’s called NEMO-NET. The video game lets gamers and citizen scientists unite to mark out where coral reefs are thriving and where they are dying. Really, it is a game you can play on your phone!

NASA used specialized cameras attached to drones to collect 3-D images of the ocean floor around Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa. Using this footage game players identify and classify corals. The more players on NEMO-NET, the more the computer behind it is able to learn on its own and start to map out the world’s coral reefs. Pretty cool!

Now before you go and download Nemo-net, I have one last aquatic update. Researchers believe that crocodiles used to swim around in the ocean like whales or dolphins. Weird to think about right?! A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined fossils from ancient crocodiles and believe the creatures moved from a life on land to a life at sea about 182 million years ago. The animals called Thalattosuchians likely had a body similar to dolphins but they would breathe through their nostrils, not a blowhole. Crazy!

Well that’s all I have for you this time, except to say “see ya later alligator” or rather "after awhile crocodile!"

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