Astonishing Ocean Facts to Celebrate World Oceans Day

Astonishing Ocean Facts to Celebrate World Oceans Day

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau

June 8th marks World Oceans Day, a special occasion to appreciate and connect with the vast and fascinating waters that drive our enthusiasm for open water swimming. Let’s explore some incredible and rare facts about the oceans that will inspire and amaze you.

Underwater Rivers and Lakes

Did you know that the ocean has rivers and lakes beneath its surface? These underwater bodies of water, known as brine pools, form when seawater seeps through thick layers of salt, dissolving it and creating dense, salty water that settles in depressions on the seafloor. These brine pools have shorelines and even waves, resembling their land-based counterparts​.

The Tiny World Beneath the Waves: Marine Microbes Galore

Ever wonder what’s in the ocean water you might accidentally gulp while swimming? Brace yourself: an average liter of ocean water contains about 38,000 different kinds of microbial bacteria! Before you get grossed out, know this—these creatures are essential for life on Earth.

Microbes make up a whopping 90% of the ocean’s total weight of organisms. This invisible army includes viral particles, bacteria, and other single-celled life forms. They thrive in places you’d think were lifeless, such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents and the ocean’s crust. These microbes pull carbon from rocks, support the marine food web, and produce much of the oxygen we breathe.

Despite their tiny size, microbes play massive roles. They form the base of the marine food web and make vital nutrients available to other organisms. Because of their incredible diversity, scientists still have a lot to learn about them. The International Census of Marine Microbes (ICOMM) aimed to catalog known marine microbes and discover new ones, contributing to a vast database called MICROBIS.

The Immortal Jellyfish

The inevitable cycle of birth, life, and death governs all living organisms on Earth. Some, like certain insects, have lifespans of mere days, while others, such as trees, can live for centuries. However, no creature truly lives forever.

Or almost none.

There exists a species that appears to defy this natural order: the jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii, often referred to as the “immortal jellyfish.” Discovered in the Mediterranean Sea, this ancient organism has spread globally, often hitching rides on ships due to its polyp stage’s adhesive capabilities​.

What sets T. dohrnii apart is its ability to reverse its life cycle through a process called transdifferentiation. This allows the jellyfish to revert to the polyp stage in response to environmental stress, injury, or starvation. This genetic reprogramming effectively resets its biological clock, granting it potential biological immortality

Scientists are studying the mechanisms behind T. dohrnii‘s rejuvenation capabilities, hoping to unlock secrets that could inform human aging research. The jellyfish’s ability to repair and reproduce its DNA and maintain stem cells offers promising insights.

Underwater Hijinks: Dolphins and Pufferfish Playtime

Dolphins engage in what can only be described as a game of aquatic hot potato. They catch and toss the pufferfish among themselves, much to the fish’s distress. But this isn’t just any game—it’s a high-stakes challenge. Pufferfish contain tetrodotoxin, a potent poison capable of killing a human in tiny amounts.

These dolphins have turned this dangerous interaction into a recreational activity. They gently chew on the pufferfish to release just enough toxin to experience a narcotic-like high, all while skillfully avoiding a lethal dose. The dolphins pass the pufferfish back and forth, sharing the buzz in a playful yet calculated manner. This risky pastime has become a popular sport among the young males.

The Unexpected Ancestor: Pakicetus, The First Whale

Odd as it may seem, the ancestor of today’s whales, dolphins, and porpoises was a four-footed land mammal named Pakicetus. This creature, which lived around 50 million years ago in what is now Pakistan, is often recognized as the “first whale.”

Pakicetus was a wolf-sized meat eater that sometimes consumed fish, according to chemical evidence found in its fossils. Straddling the worlds of land and sea, it had characteristics linking it to modern cetaceans, the group that includes whales, porpoises, and dolphins. Despite having a body suited for land, Pakicetus possessed a long skull, characteristic of whales, and unique ear bones that modern cetaceans also have.

Pakicetus is part of a rare evolutionary pattern where mammals adapted to life in the sea. This transition has occurred at least seven times across different mammal groups, resulting in approximately 100 living marine mammal species today. These species belong to three major groups:

  • Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) within Artiodactyla.
  • Carnivora (seals, sea lions, walruses, and independently, sea otters).
  • Sirenia (manatees and dugongs).

Cancer-Fighting Sea Sponges

Most drugs are derived from flowers and plants on land and discovering alternative sources is becoming increasingly difficult. Some bacteria have become resistant to these drugs, rendering them ineffective. The ocean, with its incredible biodiversity, offers a vast array of organisms that are a source of new medicines. NOAA scientists have been studying sponges, corals, and other marine organisms, uncovering chemicals that break down the defenses bacteria use against antibiotics. These helper drugs can make previously ineffective antibiotics work again. NOAA scientists have extracted potent chemicals from corals and sponges that show promise in treating cancer . To create these new drugs, scientists replicate these chemicals in laboratories, avoiding the need to harvest marine organisms continually and preserving marine ecosystems.

The ocean holds countless wonders, but one fact stands out as truly mind-blowing: More than 80% of the ocean remains unexplored and unmapped. This means that we know more about the surface of Mars and the Moon than we do about our own planet’s seabed. The ocean’s depths are a vast, mysterious frontier, teeming with unknown life forms and geological features waiting to be discovered​.

World Oceans Day reminds us of our responsibility to protect and cherish the oceans that sustain us. As open water swimmers, every stroke we take is a tribute to the beauty, mystery, and power of the seas. By deepening our understanding and appreciation of the ocean, we can inspire others to join us in preserving this vital resource for future generations. Happy World Oceans Day, open water swimming community! Let’s celebrate the oceans that inspire and connect us.

WOWSA