Topic: Oceans

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Friendly Floatees

Toys Shipwrecks Oceans

Friendly Floatees are plastic bath toys marketed by The First Years, and made famous by the work of Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who models ocean currents on the basis of flotsam movements. Ebbesmeyer studied the movements of a consignment of 29,000 Friendly Floatees—yellow ducks, red beavers, blue turtles and green frogs—which were washed into the Pacific Ocean in 1992. Some of the toys landed along Pacific Ocean shores, such as Hawaii. Others traveled over 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank, and spent years frozen in Arctic ice to reach the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, British and Irish shores 15 years later in 2007.

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Indian Ocean garbage patch

Oceans Polymers

The Indian Ocean garbage patch, discovered in 2010, is a gyre of marine litter suspended in the upper water column of the central Indian Ocean, specifically the Indian Ocean Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres. The patch does not appear as a continuous debris field. As with other patches in each of the five oceanic gyres, the plastics in it break down to ever smaller particles, and to constituent polymers. As with the other patches, the field constitutes an elevated level of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris; primarily particles that are invisible to the naked eye. The concentration of particle debris has been estimated to be approximately 10,000 particles per square kilometer.

A similar patch of floating plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean, the Great Pacific garbage patch, was predicted in 1985, and discovered in 1997 by Charles J. Moore as he passed through the North Pacific Gyre on his return from the Transpacific Yacht Race. The North Atlantic garbage patch was discovered in 2010.

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Whale fall

Cetaceans Mammals Oceans

A whale fall occurs when the carcass of a whale has fallen onto the ocean floor at a depth greater than 1,000 m (3,300 ft), in the bathyal or abyssal zones. On the sea floor, these carcasses can create complex localized ecosystems that supply sustenance to deep-sea organisms for decades. This is unlike in shallower waters, where a whale carcass will be consumed by scavengers over a relatively short period of time. Whale falls were first observed in the late 1970s with the development of deep-sea robotic exploration. Since then, several natural and experimental whale falls have been monitored through the use of observations from submersibles and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) in order to understand patterns of ecological succession on the deep seafloor.

Deep sea whale falls are thought to be hotspots of adaptive radiation for specialized fauna. Organisms that have been observed at deep-sea whale fall sites include giant isopods, squat lobsters, bristleworms, prawns, shrimp, lobsters, hagfish, Osedax, crabs, sea cucumbers, and sleeper sharks. In the past three years whale fall sites have come under scrutiny, and new species have been discovered, including potential whale fall specialists. It has been postulated that whale falls generate biodiversity by providing evolutionary stepping stones for multiple lineages to move and adapt to new environmentally-challenging habitats. Researchers estimate that 690,000 carcasses/skeletons of the nine largest whale species are in one of the four stages of succession at any one time. This estimate implies an average spacing of 12 km (7.5 mi) and as little as 5 km (3.1 mi) along migration routes. They hypothesize that this distance is short enough to allow larvae to disperse/migrate from one to another.

Whale falls are able to occur in the deep open ocean due to cold temperatures and high hydrostatic pressures. In the coastal ocean, a higher incidence of predators as well as warmer waters hasten the decomposition of whale carcasses. Carcasses may also float due to decompositional gases, keeping the carcass at the surface. The bodies of most great whales (baleen and sperm whales) are slightly denser than the surrounding seawater, and only become positively buoyant when the lungs are filled with air. When the lungs deflate, the whale carcasses can reach the seafloor quickly and relatively intact due to a lack of significant whale fall scavengers in the water column. Once in the deep-sea, cold temperatures slow decomposition rates, and high hydrostatic pressures increase gas solubility, allowing whale falls to remain intact and sink to even greater depths.

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