• Each map in this gallery depicts the travel routes of oceanic species. The organisms mapped are whales, sharks, pinnipeds, sea turtles, seabirds, and bluefin tuna. The organisms are mapped by separating them into their various communities across the Pacific, Atlantic, Southern, and Indian oceans.

    The Census of Marine Life

    For millennia, the ocean has enchanted human imagination with the lure of treasure, monsters, and mystery, all hidden beneath a seemingly endless surface. Centuries of exploration have revealed wonders beneath the waves, but much more remains to be discovered. Facets of oceanography and marine biology remain only partially understood; including questions about the diversity, distribution, and abundance of the life that dwells in the ocean.


    A collaboration of scientists working with unprecedented scope has provided a push to answer many of these questions. In the year 2000, the first Census of Marine Life began a 10-year effort to reveal the state of life in the ocean. Enrolling some 2,700 researchers from more than 80 countries, it employed divers, nets, and submersible vehicles, genetic identification, sonars, electronic and acoustic tagging, listening posts, and communicating satellites. The Census spanned all oceanic realms, from coasts, down slopes, to the abyss, from the North Pole across tropics to the shores of Antarctica. It systematically compiled information from new discoveries and historic archives and made it freely accessible. Census explorers found life wherever they looked—a riot of species.


    The last decade has improved our understanding of the very small, the very large, and very remote creatures that call the ocean home. Marine life continues to bring forth surprises. In the Caribbean, explorers encountered a clam that thrived between 200 million and 65 million years ago, but thought to have been extinct since the early 1880s. Off Mauritania, they found cold-water corals extending over 400 kilometers (249 miles) at a depth of 500 meters (1640 feet)—one of the world's longest reefs. Near Chile, they found giant microbial mats covering an area of seafloor the size of Greece. Long-term tracking revealed migratory highways. Combining all this information has created a deeper understanding of new habitats and ecosystems, and also of habitats that have a long history of human contact.


    About this Gallery: Long-distance Ocean Travels

    This map gallery offers a glimpse into the discoveries of a decade's investigation into life in all ocean realms from microbes to whales. As modern tracking technology follows animals over ever-longer distances and durations, the last decade has revealed the largest daily migration and the longest seasonal migration yet observed. The eventual goal is to define migratory corridors of the oceans: the "blue highways."


    Each map in this gallery was created by combining data collected by tracking multiple organisms of one species.  Each map contains multiple tracks and points because multiple organisms are mapped, and different organisms travel different places. By mapping multiple organisms, patterns emerge, allowing researchers to define the "blue highways" that they seek.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abyss Noun

    deep pit in the ocean or other body of water.

    archive Verb

    to keep records or documents.

    census Noun

    program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

    Encyclopedic Entry: census
    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    cold-water coral Noun

    tiny marine animal that thrives in deep, cold water. Also called deep-water coral.

    data Plural Noun

    (singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

    decade Noun

    10 years.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    exploration Noun

    study and investigation of unknown places, concepts, or issues.

    extinct Adjective

    no longer existing.

    genetic Adjective

    having to do with genes, inherited characteristics or heredity.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    imagination Noun

    creative thoughts.

    marine biology Noun

    study of life in the ocean.

    microbial Adjective

    having to do with very small organisms.

    migration Noun

    movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

    migratory Adjective

    organisms that travel from one place to another at predictable times of the year.

    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    oceanography Noun

    study of the ocean.

    Encyclopedic Entry: oceanography
    realm Noun

    region of the Earth that harbors similar groups of species.

    slope Noun

    foothills or gently rising base of mountains.

    sonar Noun

    method of determining the presence and location of an object using sound waves (echolocation).

    submersible Noun

    small submarine used for research and exploration.

    surface Noun

    the outside or top layer of an object.