Monday, November 07, 2016


"These robots are helping answer a huge unknown about young marine life" PBS NewsHour 11/2/2016


SUMMARY:  Many mysteries remain about life under the sea, like what happens to marine creatures between life stages of larvae and adulthood.  These tiny creatures are extremely hard to track in the open ocean, so one marine ecologist is using robots to mimic the larvae's motions in order to determine what control they have over their own fate.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Now a new effort to shed light on a mystery that has long baffled scientists who study the world's oceans and waterways.

Researchers are using some very sophisticated robots to understand what's happening with microscopic marine life.

Special correspondent Cat Wise has the story, part of our weekly series covering the Leading Edge of science and technology.

CAT WISE, Special correspondent:  At the Crab Cove Visitors Center in Alameda, California, the main attraction is, no surprise, crabs.

WOMAN:  It's pointed, right?  So that means it's a…

CHILD:  Male.

CAT WISE:  On a recent afternoon, a group of children on a field trip at the center headed outside to the nearby beach with naturalist Morgan Dill for a talk on the creatures of the cove.

MORGAN DILL, Naturalist, East Bay Regional Park District:  We have got clams.  We have got oysters.  Would you like to see a crab's baby picture?  This is the cute little baby crab.  So, this is their larval stage, and they go through this stage and they're out there, but we don't actually know too much about them, but this is their baby picture.

CAT WISE:  Dill's lesson highlighted a gap in her and other scientists' otherwise detailed knowledge of the crab's life cycle.

MORGAN DILL:  Sometimes, when you flip them over, they have actually got eggs on their abdomen.  And they're holding them there, and there's hundreds of eggs.  And, so, often, the kids will say, OK, so where do they go from there?

We tell them they go back out into the bay, but we don't really know how long they're out there, when they're coming back, and are they at the whim of the current or not?

CAT WISE:  The answers to those questions have long been a mystery to those who study the oceans.  But it's not just the whereabouts of baby crabs that's perplexing.  More than 70 percent of all marine organisms start out life as tiny microscopic larvae, creatures like sea urchins, anemones, lobsters, shrimp, and a wide variety of fish.  Many look like little aliens.

STEVEN MORGAN, University of California, Davis:  We know so little about this life stage because it's so incredibly difficult to study.

CAT WISE:  Steven Morgan is a professor marine ecology at the University of California at Davis.  Morgan has spent most of his career trying to figure out what happens to marine larvae before they become adults and are easier to track.

STEVEN MORGAN:  On land, we can radio track mountain lions by putting collars on them and their offspring, and so we know exactly what's happening to populations.  But in the sea, imagine trying to follow this microscopic larval stage for weeks and months in the plankton while it's developing.  We can't do that.

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