News headlines can be a little overwhelming right now. If you’ve avoided your newsfeeds this week you may not know that Monday was World Oceans Day – an event that ushered in a healthy dose of content celebrating the role oceans play in our everyday lives. So to help kickstart your weekend we're momentarily muting the negative news and bringing you a roundup of recent ocean-related discoveries.

Whale-y amazing science

It goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has affected fieldwork for many scientists. This is especially true for orca researchers on the border of Canada and the US, who have taken the opportunity of quieter waters to examine what impact a reduction in noise pollution may be having on endangered southern resident orcas in the Salish Sea.

A lack of recreational boating activity in the Salish Sea may have an impact on orca behaviour. 

Noise disturbance from recreational boating and industrial shipping pose a major threat to killer whales. So with most boats anchored as a result of the pandemic, researchers from nonprofit Wild Orca headed out to gauge the impact of quieter waters. Sadly, the orcas were nowhere to be found. A scarcity of salmon has affected their foraging behaviour and in recent years they have been arriving later than expected. Researchers are still hopeful that they may get some data before things return to normal.

But they aren't the only scientists using sound (or a lack thereof) to understand more about animal behaviour. Together with Inuit hunters, geophysicists used underwater microphones attached to small boats to record lots of noise from narwhals! The calls, buzzes, clicks and whistles came from a pod that summered in a Greenland fjord and is helping researchers understand the marine mammal’s behaviour and overall soundscape of Arctic glacial fjords.

Shell-ebrate this drone footage

Late last year, a team from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation captured incredible footage of an aggregation of more than 64,000 green turtles at a popular nesting area. Raine Island – a remote vegetated coral cay on the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia – is home to the largest green turtle rookery in the world and drone technology has allowed scientists to more accurately estimate how many of the reptiles frequent the area. You can watch the stunning footage below:

Jaw-some shark research

The first-ever detailed study of the diets of great white sharks off the east Australian coast marks a significant contribution towards understanding the feeding habits of these apex predators. It turns out that the sharks spend more time feeding at or near the seabed than previously expected.

"The stereotype of a shark's dorsal fin above the surface as it hunts is probably not a very accurate picture," lead author Richard Grainger from the University of Sydney, told "Within the sharks' stomachs we found remains from a variety of fish species that typically live on the seafloor or buried in the sand. This indicates the sharks must spend a good portion of their time foraging just above the seabed."

"The stereotype of a shark's dorsal fin above the surface as it hunts is probably not a very accurate picture." Image © Elias Levy

Understanding more about what great whites eat may help to minimise human-shark conflict and assist in developing effective conservation strategies for the species.

Dolphin-itely not a fake sighting

Not everything is about scientific research, however; sometimes, we just need to sit back and enjoy our watery ecosystem. Many people have noticed animals returning to places once heavily inhabited by humans but unfortunately some popular animal stories, like dolphins swimming in the Venice canals, turned out to be fake. That was not the case in Australia, though, where whale watching season is kicking off giving one photographer an opportunity to film a dolphin family and calf happily frolicking in the ocean just off the coast of Bargara.

Oceans cover 70% of our planet’s surface, but because many of us live inland this ecosystem isn’t always on our minds. But some governments (like Canada's) are at the forefront of vital international efforts to protect marine environments. Careful management of this worldwide resource is necessary for a sustainable future, a notion that gave rise to the theme for this year’s World Oceans Day. And we want to make sure we keep the oceans healthy to allow for more fascinating discoveries like the ones listed above!

Header image: Elias Levy