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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

Deep sea discoveries

By Emma Almanza
Staff Writer

It seems as though we never run out of new scientific discoveries, especially in the enigma that is the ocean. The latest of these discoveries include a new whale species found right in our backyard, and a new species of coral in the Great Barrier Reef. This shows just how much we still have yet to learn about our captivating oceans. 

The newly discovered detached coral is said to be 1,640 feet tall and blade-like, making it 390 feet taller than the Empire State building. Since the late 1800s scientists have found around 7 other tall detached corals and reefs in, but this discovery particularly shocked researchers, since the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most detailed and well mapped areas of the ocean floor. Mia Gomez, president of the MAST Ocean Conservation Club and member of the National Ocean Science Bowl, offered some insight into the extent of the discovery.

“The ocean is so big and so full of life that we can only expect more and more discoveries like this,” she said.

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Screenshot taken of the new reef during a dive (Photo courtesy of: Schmidt Ocean Institute)

Unfortunately, the Reef hosting this coral is in a great deal of danger. In the last 25 years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost nearly half of its coral population due to the ever-growing problem that is climate change. Unless protective measures are taken promptly, this iconic reef  will cease to exist.

“If climate change doesn’t slow down, the coral will bleach due to the high temperatures, leaving the organisms that depend on it with less and less resources,” Gomez said. 

Similarly, the new whale species found in the Gulf of Mexico, called“Rice whale,” are already in danger of extinction. The whales were first thought to have been part of Bryde’s whales, a group that resides in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean, but research began to show some key differences. 

Unlike the Bryde species who typically feed near the surface, Rice whales feed in the deep seafloor. This odd discovery led geneticist Lynsey Wilcox to study them further, and she found that this group had vastly contrasting genetics and bone structure too. She and other researchers collectively decided to make it a new species, despite the small number of whales they had studied, in order to keep these rapidly dying organisms from further population damage. 

Newly discovered Rice whale pictured in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo courtesy of: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

There are currently only about 100 Rice whales, and this number will keep declining, as the location of the whales further threatens their population. In the gulf, they face the risk of oil spills, fish net entanglement, and even ship strikes. Their unfortunate habit of sleeping near the surface only increases this danger. In order for these whales to remain, we need to significantly reduce our environmental damage.

“Small steps are being taken right now to help these organisms including forming new laws and policies that will lessen our harm to the oceans,” Gomez said.

Researchers are worried about the future of the Rice whales, but hope that with the help of the government, they will be able to help these innocent whales and other dying organisms and ecosystems throughout the ocean as well.

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Deep sea discoveries