Background Info

Each map in this gallery depicts the travel routes of oceanic species. The organisms mapped are whales, sharks, pinnipeds, sea turtles, seabirds, and bluefin tuna. The organisms are mapped by separating them into their various communities across the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern, and Indian oceans.


The Census of Marine Life

For millennia, the ocean has enchanted human imagination with the lure of treasure, monsters, and mystery, all hidden beneath a seemingly endless surface. Centuries of exploration have revealed wonders beneath the waves, but much more remains to be discovered. Facets of oceanography and marine biology remain only partially understood; including questions about the diversity, distribution, and abundance of the life that dwells in the ocean.

 

A collaboration of scientists working with unprecedented scope has provided a push to answer many of these questions. In the year 2000, the first Census of Marine Life began a 10-year effort to reveal the state of life in the ocean. Enrolling some 2,700 researchers from more than 80 countries, it employed divers, nets, and submersible vehicles, genetic identification, sonars, electronic and acoustic tagging, listening posts, and communicating satellites. The Census spanned all oceanic realms, from coasts, down slopes, to the abyss, from the North Pole across tropics to the shores of Antarctica. It systematically compiled information from new discoveries and historic archives and made it freely accessible. Census explorers found life wherever they looked—a riot of species.

 

The last decade has improved our understanding of the very small, the very large, and very remote creatures that call the ocean home. Marine life continues to bring forth surprises. In the Caribbean, explorers encountered a clam that thrived between 200 million and 65 million years ago, but thought to have been extinct since the early 1880s. Off Mauritania, they found cold-water corals extending over 400 kilometers (249 miles) at a depth of 500 meters (1640 feet)—one of the world's longest reefs. Near Chile, they found giant microbial mats covering an area of seafloor the size of Greece. Long-term tracking revealed migratory highways. Combining all this information has created a deeper understanding of new habitats and ecosystems, and also of habitats that have a long history of human contact.

 

About this Gallery: Long-distance Ocean Travels

This map gallery offers a glimpse into the discoveries of a decade's investigation into life in all ocean realms from microbes to whales. As modern tracking technology follows animals over ever-longer distances and durations, the last decade has revealed the largest daily migration and the longest seasonal migration yet observed. The eventual goal is to define migratory corridors of the oceans: the "blue highways."

 

Each map in this gallery was created by combining data collected by tracking multiple organisms of one species.  Each map contains multiple tracks and points because multiple organisms are mapped, and different organisms travel different places. By mapping multiple organisms, patterns emerge, allowing researchers to define the "blue highways" that they seek.

For Further Exploration

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

abyss

Noun

deep pit in the ocean or other body of water.

archive

Verb

to keep records or documents.

census

Noun

program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

Encyclopedic Entry: census

coast

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Encyclopedic Entry: coast

cold-water coral

Noun

tiny marine animal that thrives in deep, cold water. Also called deep-water coral.

data

Plural Noun

(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

decade

Noun

10 years.

ecosystem

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem

exploration

Noun

study and investigation of unknown places.

extinct

Noun

no longer existing.

genetic

Adjective

having to do with genes, inherited characteristics or heredity.

habitat

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

Encyclopedic Entry: habitat

imagination

Noun

creative thoughts.

marine biology

Noun

study of life in the ocean.

microbial

Adjective

having to do with very small organisms.

migration

Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

migratory

Adjective

organisms that travel from one place to another at predictable times of the year.

ocean

Noun

large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

Encyclopedic Entry: ocean

oceanography

Noun

study of the ocean.

Encyclopedic Entry: oceanography

realm

Noun

region of the Earth that harbors similar groups of species.

slope

Noun

foothills or gently rising base of mountains.

sonar

Noun

method of determining the presence and location of an object using sound waves (echolocation).

submersible

Noun

small submarine used for research and exploration.

surface

Noun

the outside or top layer of an object.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Editors

Julie Brown, National Geographic Society
Frank Biasi, National Geographic Society
Mary Ford, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, National Geographic Society

Page Producers

Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society
Tara Messing

Other

Maps courtesy Census of Marine Life

Individual map credits are as follows:

 

Pacific Bluefin Tuna

TAGGING OF PACIFIC PREDATORS

LEAD: BLOCK, WWW.TOPP.ORG

 

Pacific Whales

LEAD: MATE, WWW.TOPP.ORG

 

Pacific Sea Turtles

LEAD: SHILLINGER (EAST), BENSON (WEST), WWW.TOPP.ORG

 

Pacific Seabirds

LEAD: SHAFFER, WWW.TOPP.ORG

 

Pacific Sharks

LEAD: BLOCK, WWW.TOPP.ORG

 

Pacific Pinnipeds

LEAD: COSTA, WWW.TOPP.ORG

 

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

BLOCK ET AL. (2005), WWW.TAGAGIANT.ORG

 

Atlantic Sea Turtles

MCCLELLAN (2007), GODLEY (2004), MACHADO (2010) AGGREGATED AT WWW.SEAMAP.ENV.DUKE.EDU

 

Atlantic Seabirds

MARTIN ET AL (2010), WWW.SEAMAP.ENV.DUKE.EDU

 

Southern Pinnipeds

BIUW ET AL. (2007), WWW.BIOLOGY.ST-ANDREWS.AC.UK/SEAOS/

 

Indian Ocean White Sharks

BONFIL ET AL. (2005), WWW.SHARK-TRACKER.COM

 

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