Long-distance Ocean Travels

Long-distance Ocean Travels

Follow along travel routes of oceanic species.

Grades

6 - 12+

Subjects

Biology, Earth Science, Geography, Oceanography

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.

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
Frank Biasi, National Geographic Society
Julie Brown, National Geographic Society
Mary Ford, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor
Page Producers
Tara Messing
Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society
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

Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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