This section describes six possible topics on ocean life that can be incorporated into your science curriculum.
Origins and evolution of life: History of Marine Life
In certain areas, the Hall takes an historical approach to our knowledge about marine life, a kind of study known as phylogenetic evolution. All life on Earth shares a common ancestor and originated in the ocean; evidence suggests that marine life was already present about 3.5 billion years ago. Students can find examples of the history of marine life throughout the Hall.
- Ancient Oceans — Compare three views of ocean life at different points in time: 450 million years ago, 270 million years ago, and 70 million years ago; observe a 1.5-billion-year-old filament of a photosynthetic marine bacteria called cyanobacteria; and touch a stromatolite, a structure formed by communities of microorganisms.
- Tree of Life — The cladograms found here show how groups of organisms relate to each other. Search the touchscreen interactives for detailed information on the species displayed.
Physical setting: Living in Water
The properties of water, such as density (the amount of substance found within a specific volume) and viscosity (the resistance to flow exhibited by a liquid), influence the fundamental structures and ways of life of all marine organisms. For example, locomotion is influenced by the fact that water is denser and more viscous than air. In addition, feeding, respiration, and sensory perception are influenced by other marine characteristics. Food, for instance, is extremely scarce in some areas, water contains less "free" oxygen than air, and areas of the ocean can be completely dark.
- Life in Water — Explore the displays adjacent to the Tree of Life Walls that illustrate biological features, such as breathing, feeding, moving, and reproduction, of different aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates.
- Ecosystem Displays — Study the label text of the eight ecosystems, which provides information on the implications of living in water.
Many marine species possess special adaptations. These are characteristics resulting from the evolutionary process in response to environmental and biological changes. Adaptations permit organisms to live in particular ocean habitats, such as the deep sea or mangrove forests. Some organisms have adaptations that allow them to move from one habitat to another. Certain whales and sharks, for example, can overcome changes in pressure and move from the surface to the deep sea.
- Ecosystem Displays and Marine Mammal Dioramas — These cases suggest some of the challenges that exist for plants and animals and their adaptations for survival. For example, the deep sea ecosystem case highlights adaptations involving bioluminescence (light produced by living organisms), big mouths, and the ability to detect red light. Investigate how these adaptations help animals.
- Diving for Pearls Diorama — Consider how the human body lacks adaptations for life in water.
The displays in the Hall illustrate the amazing diversity of marine ecosystems and reveal the variety of species within each. The health of an ecosystem is related to the ecological balance between its species and the physical environment. This balance is the result of the relationships among the ecosystem species. Each ecosystem is also connected to both surrounding marine ecosystems and some to those on land.
- Mangrove Forests Display — One of the eight ecosystem displays, this example depicts the connection between the mangrove ecosystem and seagrass beds. For example, baraccuda live in mangroves as juveniles and move to seagrass when they mature.
- Comparison of Ecosystem Displays — Ask students to compare two different displays, such as estuaries and the polar sea. What species live in these two ecosystems? What do they eat? What are the morphological (relating to the form, structure, or anatomy of an organism) characteristics of a particular organism living in each ecosystem? How have they adapted?
Conservation: Human Impacts on the Ocean
A complex interrelationship exists between humans and the ocean. Each ecosystem display contains text entitled "Critical Connections," detailing many examples of human-related threats to the ocean, such as pollution, overfishing, and mining. Consider the impact humans have on the ocean based on information found throughout the Hall.
- Open Ocean Label Text — These panels indicate such ongoing threats to marine life such as the overfishing of shark species, the effects of global warming, and the mobility of "long-distance" pollutants like oil, plastic bags, and chemicals such as DDT.
- Video Wall — Watch this video montage for examples of human interaction with and impact on the ocean.
Ocean Impacts on Humans
More than half the world's population—2.7 billion people—lives within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of a coast. The ocean and its resources influence the cultures of communities worldwide, affecting livelihoods, diet, transportation, mythology, and art.
Ask students to consider the following:
- Various ocean resources—marine mammals, birds, fish, and marine plants—may be available to a coastal community but not to a landlocked community. These marine resources serve and influence coastal communities in different ways. Encourage students to extend their investigation beyond the Hall to compare and contrast the use of resources in two different coastal communities.
- Coastal residents benefit from their proximity to the ocean, but may also contend with dangers such as hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. Examine how the ocean affects the weather in different coastal regions around the globe.
- Different countries have different coastlines, or none at all. Coastlines have always been areas where goods and ideas are exchanged. Ask students to explore how bordering the ocean might affect a country.