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Saturday, July 10, 2010

More evidence that we barely know anything

Just like your uncle Jerry, the ocean smells salty, has a thing for driftwood, and overall is a pretty reliable source for bizarreness. For instance: who would have thought that coral larvae - which the LA Times memorably described as "tiny hair-covered sacs of cells" - show a very strong attraction to the sounds of coral reefs when they are choosing a place to settle. Let me repeat that: these little things, which are tiny larvae in the Phylum Cni-freaking-DARIA, pretty much choose their home based on the quality of the neighborhood jams. Maybe not the most mature way to choose a home, but then again...they are larvae.

Anyway, on top of that news - and the obvious and uncomfortable realization that sound, and thereby human-caused sound pollution, may be much more important to a wide variety of marine organisms than previously thought - comes news of a study that found that increasing the carbon dioxide concentration of sea water beyond a certain point first makes fish extremely confused, and then starts making them do the absolute worst thing to do if you're a fish - it makes them attracted to the smell of predators. This report comes on the heels - OK, more than a year after the heels - of another study that found that found that the adorable Orange clownfish loses its sense of smell, and therefore its capacity to find suitable habitat, when raised in seawater that is as acidic as ocean waters are expected to be in the next century. Both studies, incidentally, were done by the same research team at James Cook University in Australia.

"That ain't a groundbreaking study that shows that our runaway use of fossil fuels, via the attendant reduction in ocean water pH, has the potential to wreak untold havoc on the physiology of marine THIS is a groundbreaking study that shows..." and so forth.
Now, there are a few things that immediately leap to my mind when I read of these olfactory-scrambling effects of reduced pH, and the first is: salmon. Salmon rely on their sense of smell for at least the fine-scale navigation that they do in fresh water. Now, I'm no physiologist, so I don't know whether the salmon's olfactory senses are in any way similar to those of the test subjects. In fact, I could be making myself out to look like a huge goofball right here if there is something obvious that I am missing. However, when I hear of something that scrambles a fish's sense of smell, I worry anew for our salmon. As if they don't have enough hassles.

The second thing that leaps to my mind when reading of all three of those studies - including the one about the coral larvae homing in on the dance party - is a reminder that marine organisms inhabit a thoroughly different reality than us terrestrial things - they live in a different medium and they not only sense stimuli differently, but they sense types of stimuli that we cannot. So while we're technically related - we go way back, after all - it's safe to say that we can guess at the experience of being a fish or an octopus, but we'll never, ever, be even remotely close to correct. Just a thought.

Anyway. Before I leave - if anyone has any thoughts or information about the potential for decreasing pH to goof around with salmons' sniffers, let Water Blogged know!