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4 Things We (Still) Don’t Know About the Ocean

The ocean holds many mysteries.

In our current, lightspeed-paced age of information, it can sometimes feel like every stone has been turned. But the world’s oceans still have secrets hidden beneath its watery depths. While the Kraken and mermaids may not exist, there are still plenty that’s unknown to us landlubbers about the deepest reaches of the ocean and the creatures that make it their domain.

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Why Aren’t Blue Whales Singing Like They Used To?

The fact that whales communicate via song-like vocalizations has been understood for decades—even if we don’t know what, specifically, they’re communicating with 100% certainty. But a mystery that started to emerge decades ago is with regards to how blue whales are changing the way they communicate. Specifically, their vocalizations have become notably lower in pitch—but researchers don’t have a definitive answer as to why. Though there are a few possibilities. One of the possible reasons is that human activity on and in the ocean has created an unnatural level of noise pollution. Another possible reason? Literal pollution. Carbon dioxide may be making it so that sound is traveling farther underwater. Although it’s possible the lowering in their pitches is that because of humans’ conservation efforts, there are more whales and so they’re communicating across shorter distances.

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What’s the Deal With Greenland Sharks?

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Greenland sharks is their incredible lifespan. These creatures can live as long as 400 years—maybe longer! Scientists were able to determine this several years ago by dating proteins from the sharks’ eyes but what they don’t know for sure is how they’re able to live as long as they do. It’s possible that they owe their long-lived nature to their hearts, which beat much more slowly than a human heart. It might also have to do with their immune system which has qualities that are unique to centuries’ old Greenland sharks.

Another mystery surrounding the Greenland shark? Where they’re hanging out. You’d think that based on their name they’d be solely found in frigid, arctic waters when, in actuality, it’s very possible that Greenland sharks live just about anywhere on the planet, but because humans rarely dive deep enough to run into them it’s extremely difficult to confirm beyond the occasional rare sighting.

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What's Hanging Out in This Underwater Canyon?

It’s not unusual for new ocean-life to be discovered. In fact, it’s, paradoxically, fairly common. But few discoveries are as immediately striking as the purple orb that was discovered in an underwater canyon off the coast of Catalina Island by the team aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. In the footage of its discovery, the light from the camera gives it an incredible, purple glow that makes the sphere look less like a sea creature and more like a video game powering up. It was initially thought that it was some type of mollusk or sea slug but, after research was conducted on the specimen by the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, it appears likely that the sphere is a type of snail.

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What Does 81% of the Ocean Floor Look Like?

Though we’ve been able to fully map the surface of the moon, a complete topographical image of what the planet’s ocean floor looks like is still something of an unknown. Though researchers have recently made progress in this area—as recently as 2017 only 6% of the ocean floor had been mapped. But, thanks to the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project, we can now say that 19% of the ocean floor has been surveyed. That just leaves researchers to survey an area that project director Jamie McMichael-Phillips described to BBC News as “twice the size of Mars.” This knowledge isn’t just a matter of ticking off a box, as understanding what the ocean floor looks like and how it affects the atmosphere is an element of combatting climate change.

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