Marine biology

Sea creatures’ sticky ‘mucus houses’ catch ocean carbon really fast

larvacean
MUCUS HOUSE The pale inner house (rounded flank in foreground) as well as a big, stickier outer envelope of a larvacean’s shelter could be important in ocean carbon cycles.

Never underestimate the value of a disposable mucus house.

Filmy, see-through envelopes of mucus, called “houses,” get discarded daily by the largest of the sea creatures that exude them. The old houses, often more than a meter across, sink toward the ocean bottom carrying with them plankton and other biological tidbits snagged in their goo.

Now, scientists have finally caught the biggest of these soft and fragile houses in action, filtering particles out of seawater for the animal to eat. The observations, courtesy of a new deepwater laser-and-camera system, could start to clarify a missing piece of biological roles in sequestering carbon in the deep ocean, researchers say May 3 in Science Advances.

The houses come from sea animals called larvaceans, not exactly a household name. Their bodies are diaphanous commas afloat in the oceans: a blob of a head attached to a long tail that swishes water through its house. From millimeter-scale dots in surface waters to relative giants in the depths, larvaceans have jellyfish-translucent bodies but a cordlike structure (called a notochord) reminiscent of very ancient ancestors of vertebrates. “They’re more closely related to us than to jellyfish,” says bioengineer Kakani Katija of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif.

The giants among larvaceans, with bodies in the size range of candy bars, don’t form their larger, enveloping houses when brought into the lab. So Katija and colleagues took a standard engineering strategy of tracking particle movement to measure flow rates…

Victorian Marine Biologist Margaret Gatty’s Stunning Drawings of Seaweed

The tenderness of feathers meets the grandeur of trees in the otherworldly life-forms of the seas, which offered an unexpected entry point for women in science.

Victorian Marine Biologist Margaret Gatty’s Stunning Drawings of Seaweed

Although the Victorian botanist and photographer Anna Atkins became the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images and the first woman to take a photograph, she was one of very few women who managed to subvert and transcend the era’s limiting gender roles in intellectual life and creative work. It was a time when women were formally excluded from science — the great scientific institutions of the era didn’t admit female members until pioneering German astronomer Caroline Herschel and Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville became the first women admitted into the prestigious Royal Astronomical Society in 1835. But astronomy has always led the way, in science and in society. Natural history lagged far behind. London’s Linnean Society — the ivory tower of botany — wouldn’t even allow women to attend its meetings, much less admit them as members, which didn’t happen until 1905. It was the same Linnean Society that barred beloved children’s book author Beatrix Potter from presenting a paper containing her little-known yet revolutionary contributions to mycology, which remained dormant for decades.

Margaret Gatty, 1860 (Portrait Gallery, London)

But women found one particularly opportune loophole in entering science: algae-hunting. It was another children’s book author, Margaret Gatty (June 3, 1809–October 4, 1873), who took this popular hobby — one with such famous practitioners as George Eliot and Queen Victoria herself — and brought to it equal parts scientific rigor and artistic acumen.

Through her conversations and correspondence which her second cousin, the zoologist, meteorologist, and philanthropist Charles Henry Gatty, she became fascinated with marine biology and entered into correspondence with some of the era’s most prominent marine biologists. Gatty eventually educated herself in the science of the seas and taught herself to draw her specimens in exquisite detail.

In 1848, five years after Anna Atkins’s pioneering cyanotypes of sea algae, Gatty published British Sea-Weeds (public library | public domain) — a stunningly illustrated field guide to local algae, fourteen years in the making, detailing 200 specimens in two volumes.

Under Gatty’s brush, these otherworldly life-forms of the sea come to life with the tenderness of feathers and the grandeur of trees. Algae, like moss, become a reminder that beauty beckons from even the most overlooked corners of…

9 Amazing Underwater-Themed Restaurants

Plenty of restaurants sport great decor, but it’s not every day you can say you ate with the fishes. Watching sea creatures glide past your meal can be a uniquely soothing experience, and several restaurants around the world are ready to provide it—whether that means actually descending below the surface of the ocean or eating in an above-sea-level world with a giant aquarium as part of the construction.

1. AL MAHARA // DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Al Mahara in Dubai has added its star chef to the restaurant’s name, and is now called Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara. Four-star seafood may be second to the view, however. The restaurant is at the Burj Al Arab hotel, but there are no windows. Instead, diners are seated around a floor-to-ceiling 700,000-gallon marine aquarium. Al Mahara is also famous for its prices, high even by Dubai standards.

2. SUBSIX // MALDIVES

Subsix is one of nine restaurants at the PER AQUUM Niyama resort in the Maldives. Located about a third of a mile offshore from the rest of the resort, it’s also about 20 feet, or six meters, below sea level—hence the name. The only way to get there is by speedboat. You can enjoy lunch and dinner daily while relaxing in the anemone-inspired chairs, dance at the Underwater Glow Party on Wednesday and Saturday nights, or rent the whole place for a private champagne breakfast or dinner.

3. CARGO HOLD // DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

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How about lunch under the watchful eye of sharks? The Cargo Hold restaurant is part of the uShaka Marine World theme park, which boasts 32 aquarium tanks, with acrylic glass walkways leading to five shipwrecks. The Cargo Hold is nestled inside the stern of the Phantom Ship—a 1920s cargo steamer—with plenty…