Underwater Census: Frigid Oceans Are Surprisingly Popular Place to Live

By Rachel Cernansky | February 17, 2009 1:19 pm

penguin.jpgWorkers taking a biological census have just completed their first 10-year count of marine organisms living near the North and South poles, and they found more inhabitants than anyone expected. They found some 13,000 kinds of animals living at one pole or the other, or, in a surprising number of cases, at both” [Science News]. The Census of Marine Life began the project in 2000 and involves thousands of researchers worldwide, hundreds of whom participated in more than a dozen expeditions to both poles.

The complete report will be issued next year, but a summary of findings has just been released and reports about 7,500 species in the Antarctic region and 5,500 in the Arctic. The poles were found to share 235 species, although further DNA testing is being conducted to confirm that they are identical, and that they do not just look alike. Among the “bi-polar” organisms are worms, crustaceans, and birds, as well as great whales, which after centuries of whaling … had been thought to remain only in the North Pacific and along the west coast of North America [Environment News Service]. Some of the bi-polar species identified, such as two snail-like species that have become almost as filmy as jellyfish and flutter through seawater instead of crawling, are not known from anywhere in between the poles [Science News].

The objective of the census, based in Washington, D.C., was to establish the first benchmarks of marine biodiversity against which change may be measured…. Rob Nicoll with WWF-Australia said,  “In particular, the research shows [Antarctica] is an evolutionary garden for octopus, sea spiders and other bizarre deep sea creatures.” The polar oceans are “effective safe havens for species that arrive by chance,” said Nicholl, and they have been an “engine of evolution offering the right ingredients of isolation and a wide range of habitats” [Environment News Service]. He added, however, that the census will simply turn into a list of endangered species if threats facing them are not mitigated, including oil spills and illegal fishing, in addition to ocean acidification and rising temperatures from climate change.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: 23. Acid Rain Intensifies Threat To Marine Life
80beats: Antarctica Is Definitely Feeling the Heat From Global Warming

Image: Flickr / Pathfinder Linden

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Jen

    I am not sure who does your proof-reading, but an error the 6th word into a story should have been caught by now. The first line, ”Workers taking a biological census of have just completed their first…” needs to have the word OF removed. You guys do such great work at discovermagazine.com, can you please employ a worthy editor?

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    What an amazing accomplishment, 10 years of research, what a treasure of information! Not only amazing data about the facts, but also the human element,and how much is left to truly discover about our world. (P.S. thanks for suffering all the bug bites, blisters, and numerous other things involved with discovery and research, in the field…)

  • Hernanie P. Nacino

    I believe that most of the scientist do not believe in God “The Creator”,
    But I do believe that everything in this World even in the Coldest Place in
    this Planet Earth has a Purpose for Mankind that OUR GOD LORD MADE FOR US TO DISCOVER…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Jen — thanks for catching that typo. We do our utmost to ensure that every post that goes out into the world is a perfect, flawless gem, but with 5 blog posts a day we occasionally miss something. Anyway, I fixed it.

  • chris bartlett

    Well I’m glad something wants to live there. As for me, my proper habitat is sunny California with its many coffee shops. A very good article.

  • Hi There

    Wow, nacino, you’ve totally converted me. Yea-praise-god.


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