Are Animals Mixing Up the Ocean?

According to a new study reported on by National Geographic, all of the flipping, flapping, undulating, kicking, tail whipping, swishing and swoshing that sea creatures use to propel themselves in the ocean may account for a large portion of “ocean mixing” and this in turn may make climate change modeling even more complicated a task. Ocean mixing is the mixing up of sea water layers (including their temperatures, salinity, etc.). Previously, it was thought that wind, weather, seismic activity and tides were the main forces behind ocean mixing. But according to this study, published recently in Nature, all of the creatures’ combined forces may in fact account for up to one third of ocean mixing across the board!

This whole idea throws a huge wrench in the science of climate change measurement as it is a factor that simply has not been taken into account by the modelers and may be sliiiiiighly difficult to measure accurately.


I’m having some trouble getting an accurate reading…

Kakani Katija,of the California Institute of Technology, went to…

…Jellyfish Lake in Palau, an area that is relatively devoid of other ocean mixing variables like wind and tide. There he squirted colored dye around jellyfish to witness their effect on the water around them. He found that the dyed water stayed with the jellyfish as long as they moved, suggesting that their influence on the surrounding water was pretty significant.

Take into account giant schools of millions of fish or the force behind a giant squid’s thruster mechanisms, coupled with the sheer number of organisms in the ocean and it’s not a huge leap to imagine that all that movement probably has an effect on the mixing of the ocean.

Still some scientists are not convinced: “You have to be stirring the fluid with a big-enough spoon to actually mix together waters of really different temperatures,” William Dewar, of Florida State University, told National Geographic. But what if you have billions of small spoons? I ask you, Mr. Dewer. What if you have billions of them!?

What do our readers think? Animal ocean mixing…Ach ja? Or nish, nish?


  1. #1 John S. Wilkins
    August 2, 2009

    Wouldn’t the energy that is needed to enable animals to mix the waters just be some constant of the available free energy of the entire system? Sunlight and geothermal?

  2. #2 Jason J Brunet
    August 4, 2009

    As I understand it, the body of a jelly is designed to direct the water around it, which hopefully contains food, into its body cavity toward its mouth as it pulses. So of course they’d get this result if jellies are all they look at.

  3. #3 julia
    August 5, 2009

    Global warming is all because of jellyfish. They tried to be smart and blame it on us- we do eat them and pee on them, after all. But now their evil plot has been foiled! Take that you slimy little bastards! Oh, and grow a brain, too. SNAP!

    Zooillogix comes to the rescue again.

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    August 26, 2009

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  5. #5 Abi Lees
    October 7, 2011

    Kakani Katija, the scientist you speak of doing these studies and refer to as a ‘he’ is actually a women.

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    July 1, 2012

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