they're almost done. In one year, they'll be releasing the results of a decade-long survey of ocean species called The Census of Marine Life. The LA Times just did an article about this amazing project (with nifty photos):
Most marine biologists are specialists who work alone or in small groups. The census has changed that. About 2,000 scientists in 80 countries have joined forces in the largest collaboration in the history of ocean science. ...
"This was a field in need of a revolution," said Ann Bucklin, who heads the marine sciences department at the University of Connecticut. "It has opened up global oceanography."
By next year, the online database will contain photos, DNA codes and websites for at least 230,000 unique species, including more than 16,000 fish, scientists said. ...
The list would be longer, but researchers used DNA analysis to cut more than 50,000 "aliases" -- different names for the same creature -- from the species list. The worst case of multiple identity was a breadcrumb sponge, Halichondria panacea, which had 56 names around the world. Now it will have one.
The whole project cost $650,000,000 (yes, that's millyuns.) I love the scope of the project alone. And the fact that it's (aptly) being compared to mapping the human genome. I love that this brings together my two original obsessions: taxonomy and mapping. But you know (you know) what I love the most. That's right, the actual maps.
The one above is an interactive map of the projects they're running. Click on the dots to get an incomprehensible overview.
Here's one of the cooler maps. Created by satellite tagging 47 white sharks, they discovered an area of concentrated activity between Hawaii and Baja they call the "White Shark Cafe." Awesome. Unless you're a surfer.
There are also a number of super depressing ones like this one, which tracks the "relative abundance of marine life by human cultural period," and another one which shows concentrations of life in the ocean in 1960 and 1990. But you knew there couldn't be a marine-life census without a save-the-whales mentality, didn't you?
But this brings me right back to one of my originary questions: what is this obsession with quantifying and charting everything? I mean, I know what it is: it's useful; it's necessary. We can't do science, we can't understand ourselves or the world without numbers and measuring and diagrams and charts. And maps. And that's part of it. But there's also the intuitive obsession, the part that just loves binding the world in the lines drawn on a piece of paper. Not needs to, loves to. It's what we drool over in these blogs.
And the lines aren't the same as the artist's lines, although we draw them quite beautifully, often. The lines aren't there for their own sake, but for their relationship to something in the real world: a number of actual creatures, a route of actual migration of actual creatures, an area of concentration of scaly, cold, swishy bodies. And yet we love the lines more than we love the slimy, cold bodies; as much as we love what they mean.