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The Extreme Life of the Sea

The Extreme Life of the Sea

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Extreme Life of the Sea
    Book Description:

    The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments.The Extreme Life of the Seatakes readers to the absolute limits of the aquatic world--the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents--and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches--to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea's most extreme species, and reveals how they succeed across the wide expanse of the world's global ocean. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today's leading marine scientists,The Extreme Life of the Seatells the unforgettable stories of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a simple narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.

    The Extreme Life of the Seashows you the world's oldest living species, and describes how flying fish strain to escape their predators, how predatory deep-sea fish use red searchlights only they can see to find and attack food, and how, at the end of their lives, mother octopus dedicate themselves to raising their young. This wide-ranging and highly accessible book also discusses how ocean adaptations can inspire innovative commercial products--such as fan blades modeled on the flippers of humpback whales--and how climate change and overfishing could pose the greatest threats yet to our planet's tenacious marine life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4993-2
    Subjects: Aquatic Sciences, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Preface and Acknowledgments: Guiltless Wonder
    (pp. vii-x)
  2. Prologue The Epic Ocean
    (pp. 1-4)

    If you stand on a beach and stare out toward the horizon, perhaps squinting at the sunset or the vaporous plume of a distant whale, you can see about 3 miles out. If the weather is clear, you might be looking at 10–20 square miles of ocean surface—a fairly large habitat by most wildlife standards. But the global ocean is actually 10 million times the size of your view out to the horizon, and on average there are more than 2 miles of water under every square foot of surface. The most extreme thing about the ocean is...

  3. Chapter 1 The Earliest
    (pp. 5-18)

    This planet did not start out as a cradle of life—in its earliest years, it was a hellscape. We wouldn’t recognize our world; a time-traveling visitor would need a space suit to survive for even a second. The atmosphere was a thin gruel of carbon dioxide (CO₂) and nitrogen, entirely devoid of oxygen. The ground was streaked with lava, the sky sundered by volcanic lightning. Noxious chemicals bubbled to the surface and into the atmosphere: ammonia, sulfates, formaldehyde.¹ The oceans grew, condensing out of the planet’s crust or falling from the sky as rain, but also being delivered piecemeal...

  4. Chapter 2 The Most Archaic
    (pp. 19-35)

    The Volkswagen Type 1, with its walleyed headlights and domed roof, is uniquely enduring among automobiles. An enormous commercial success from its first production in 1938 through the 1960s, the iconic car continues to be driven widely and to inspire enthusiasts around the world. By any objective standard, newer models are better—faster, sleeker, safer, and more efficient or maneuverable. And yet the Volkswagen “Bug” maintains a tenacious grip on existence.

    Type 1s may have gone into production more than 70 years ago, but they offer features and characteristics that remain attractive to this day, because they solved common problems....

  5. Chapter 3 The Smallest
    (pp. 36-45)

    At this very moment, there are 100 trillion bacteria on your seat. Don’t reach for the disinfectant spray—those multitudes bacteria areinside you. The human body houses ten times more active microbes than its own living cells. It’s a visceral reminder that for all of life’s progress, Earth remains a microbial world.¹

    Microbes are single-celled organisms too small to see with the naked eye. The group includes bacteria, and a bacteria-like group called the Archaea that tend to live in extreme habitats, as well as some more advanced single-celled species. The microbes were some of the first living things....

  6. Chapter 4 The Deepest
    (pp. 46-64)

    On June 6, 1930, two men climbed into a hollow steel sphere, sealed themselves inside, and dropped headlong into the Atlantic Ocean. A few hours later, they returned to the blinding Bermuda sunlight, forever changed by what they’d seen. Naturalist William Beebe and an engineer named Otis Barton had descended into the blue-black depths in what would be the deepest dive in human history. Their vessel, a bathysphere, measured less than 5 feet across and offered only a porthole of fused quartz to look through. A single steel cable and a rubber air hose ran up to the surface, narrowly...

  7. Chapter 5 The Shallowest
    (pp. 65-80)

    For 20 years, the stone wall at Kaka’ako Park in Hawaii has been a shield against the Pacific Ocean. Boulders weighing thousands of pounds fit together like giant bricks laid down over miles of shore, tightly knit without a drop of mortar. Children leap from one to another as they chase each other down the shoreline. Tourists stroll along the waterfront. Families set out food on the picnic tables. And all the while, the waves keep rolling in. They march in ranks, pounding the black stones with the strength of ages.

    Along the waterline, lower down than the children are...

  8. Chapter 6 The Oldest
    (pp. 81-93)

    Dawn breaks over a quiet Pacific atoll. A thin ribbon of beach glows with the golden color of the rising Sun. Ghost crabs skitter across the sand. Light breezes lap at the edges of a calm lagoon ringed by low islands, turquoise waters, and coconut palms.

    In a flash, everything is gone.

    A second sun ascends from the Pacific Ocean atop a mountain of fire. Superheated vapor roars outward from the explosion, engulfing a fleet of old warships abandoned offshore. Roiling smoke propels the cloud skyward as a thousand thunders roar across the ocean. Now a mile into the sky,...

  9. Chapter 7 The Fastest Sprints and Longest Journeys
    (pp. 94-111)

    Marine creatures are attuned to the drag of water in ways that we simply can’t be. We’re land creatures, striding from place to place as though in a vacuum, taking little note of the feeble atmosphere swaddling us. Water presents a greater obstacle to movement. The density, the weight, and most importantly, the way water clutches strongly at everything moving in it makes it a permanent, physical impediment.

    The drag of water pulls at everything that moves in the ocean. Drag, and the stamina to withstand it, are important in the fastest sprints when fish muscle their way up to...

  10. Chapter 8 The Hottest
    (pp. 112-124)

    Thailand’s Andaman Sea heats like a skillet. There’s no stove below—rather, sunlight glares mercilessly above, broken up by eerie rock columns into wavering oblong shadows. Every crystalline morsel of water inhales the streams of solar energy, but a whole ocean is hard to heat. And once the surface temperature exceeds about 90° F (32° C), evaporation saps heat away almost as fast as the Sun adds it. As a result, the Sun rarely warms the ocean past human body temperature. Even the most torrid tropical seas fall far short of the temperature you’d prefer in the shower. Truly hot...

  11. Chapter 9 The Coldest
    (pp. 125-140)

    Picture a fourteenth-century medieval castle in the grip of a sweltering summer heat wave. The thick stone walls of the keep are cool, but the air is humid, and the walls run with dew. In the audience chamber, bright rays of sunlight pour through thick windows set high in the wall. A retinue of guests present themselves to the regent, offering cool exotic spirits as a gift for his hospitality. The prince accepts and calls for a table to be set. Stewards lay out goblets for the visitors, but a smaller vessel is set before the throne: narrow and fluted,...

  12. Chapter 10 The Strangest Family Lives
    (pp. 141-157)

    Few ocean organisms have benefited from popular culture more than the merry clownfish. Just a few inches long, it’s typified by bright colors and a friendly demeanor. Of the thirty-odd species in genusAmphiprion,the most popular aquarium types are neon orange with bold white markings. Those marks are broad and gently curving, guiding the observer’s eye along the fish’s rounded body. With clownfish, nature hosts a seminar on graphic design. Like the best consumer products, they’re bright, distinctive, and eye-catching without drifting toward tacky. They are also famously loyal, spending their lives in symbiotic bonds with sea anemones. Specialized...

  13. Chapter 11 Future Extremes
    (pp. 158-174)

    Across the wide expanse of the oceans and their deep history, marine life is phenomenally tough. Marine species are the ultimate survivors: from microbes that conquered early Earth, to living fossils crawling from the Burgess Shale all the way to the Ocean City boardwalk. Some cling to boiling vents as the only food source in crushing depth and darkness. Others hew an existence from the bones of dead whales. Helpless anglerfish males comb the night for brides sustained only by faith and a gold nugget of yolk. Reef corals—just our current kind, never mind that there were others long...

  14. Epilogue: A Grand Bargain
    (pp. 175-178)

    A wooden skiff with a splintering hull and faded blue paint churns along under stormy skies. The coughing outboard engine takes it through warm, gentle Philippine waters. First green, then gray with reflected clouds, and finally dark with submerged reefs. Laden with heavy SCUBA gear, you swivel your head to the mossy crag overlooking the lagoon. Apo Island’s steep volcanic slopes shelter a small village from strong South Pacific winds. A flotilla of fishing boats surrounds your skiff as the reedy pilot approaches your destination. All these fishing boats are a poor omen to start a dive; a sign of...