How oceanic evolution took a left turn 170 million years ago

New research reveals a major shift in what pressures life used to face.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
  • For the vast majority of the evolutionary history of ocean life, sudden changes in climate and oceanic chemistry had a huge impact on what life could flourish and what life could not.
  • But about 170 million years ago, this changed. The ocean became more stable, and things like predator-prey relationships started to dominate how life evolved.
  • The reason for this sudden change? Calcifying plankton came to dominate the oceans.
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Surprising Science

Study explains exactly why captivity is bad for orcas

A comprehensive interdisciplinary paper removes any doubt that orcas don't belong in marine parks and zoos.

Image source: ullstein bild/Getty
  • Researchers present a detailed catalogue of the hardships captive orcas face and the damage done to them.
  • The study draws parallels between known human chronic stresses and entertainment and research facility conditions.
  • The evidence offers a damning response to perplexed apologies offered by proprietors of such parks, aquariums, and zoos when an orca dies.
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Surprising Science

Octopus arms can make decisions on their own

The remarkable distributed nervous system of the octopus is discussed at an astrobiology conference.

Image source: Kondratuk Aleksei/Shutterstock
  • Unlike vertebrates, two-thirds of an octopus' neurons are in its tentacles.
  • Tentacles respond to the surrounding environment without help from the head's brain.
  • If something this weird is here on our own Earth, what could be out there in space?
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The ocean is teeming with viruses — billions and billions of them

A new study has identified 12 times as many viral populations as previous research.

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  • New research suggests that there are nearly 200,000 different viral populations in the ocean.
  • Surprisingly, the Arctic appears to be a viral hotspot.
  • Viruses play an important role in the ocean's food chain and carbon cycle, making research such as this potentially valuable to future climate change work.
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Remembering Peregocetus pacificus — modern whales' otter-like ancestor

The new fossil offers insight into when whales returned to the oceans millions of years ago.

Reconstruction by A. Gennari in Lambert et al., 2019
  • Researchers discovered a fossil of a four-legged, amphibious whale off the coast of Peru.
  • The fossil is among the oldest of its kind at 42.6 million years old, and its skeletal structure offers insights into the transition of whales back into the ocean.
  • One of the more exciting findings is that this species suggests that these ancient whales came to South America by swimming across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa and spread across the globe from there.
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