thumbnail of Radio Smithsonian; 37; The Worms Go In and A Link With the Sea
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
From Washington we Prison Radio Smithsonian program music and now this thing. As the population of the world grows. So grows the. Recent developments in the so-called Green Revolution are encouraging. But probably our greatest source of food in the future is our own. Today. Frederick M. Phillips talks with Dr.. Director of the Office of Environmental Sciences about the Johnson Sea Link. This recently launched submarine is designed to study the oceans and provide basic research on the sea as a provider of food stuff. But first we talk with our curator Dr. Meredith. Dr. Johns you're curator of such an appealing title. How many different species of worms are there in fact I think perhaps First you should realize there are many kinds of worms and the term worm
itself refers only to the shape of the animal. And so in the in the greater scheme of things are logically speaking you can have. Very distantly related animals that are still considered worms by the layman so far as my special interest group is concerned. There are perhaps 5000 valid describes species at present and these the Marine was a Joe Moore and these are primarily marine worms. These are the worms fisherman known as blood worms or sand worms the earthworms don't fall into this category. The nematodes the parasitic plant and animal parasite worms don't fall here nor the flukes nor the tapeworms nor arrow worms or peanut worms or other things of this sort. How they characterized by their different feeding mechanism. Actually this is one of the easiest ways to characterize them.
Whether they're basically whether they're carnivores and attack other usually smaller animals whether they eat to breed at a carnival or leaves with a DE filter. Very fine particulate matter out of the sea water whether they eat the substrate the sand or the mud through which they're burrowing and just the bacterial film off the sand grains or clean sand and then it's algal feel more bacteria then they did a great evolutionary change is the way. Probably not. There are very early fossils from British Columbia which have appeared appear to have worms that are quite similar to worms we know now but they have not adapted a great deal. Well I think they've adapted quite well yeah I mean they're found in so many different places the real restrictions are that they are a quite a you know most of them are marine. But apart from that they've gone everywhere within the oceans they can only go one physically
mate I mean do they have a mother. No yes. It's actually one of the more. Primitive if I must use the term animals which have a complete just to track them out at one end and the end of the other and the gut traverses through the body which is composed of Sirius and in their range series of segments each one of these can act independently of any other. Or they can be coordinated by a brain which indeed the worms have this coordination is accomplished through a ventral nerve cord with ganglia. You need to segment and so when one can get a coordinated movement of the whole length of the war. You know didn't we. Yes they walked and if you cut away the lead cause it doesn't sound as if it can the way you describe it later. Well it depends an awful lot where they where the cut is made. In my
in my worms if you cut in back of the head then chances are that the post airier and will regenerate head and the head end and will regenerate the tail if you cut further back. Chances are less likely that the poster half will regenerate a head. But there are certain worms that do this spontaneously and indeed this is one of the accepted manners of reproductions of are as Americans how do breed. There are two sexes externally there and awfully obvious that males and females may look alike but each one usually has only eggs or sperm and usually these are should free in seawater. I say usually because there are a few cases where whether hermaphroditic and a few cases where there is internal copulation. You said something earlier about the moon affecting reproduction does it really. Yes.
Not so much reproduction itself but it seems to trigger the movement of the worms from the coral heads in this case it's the tropical animals that undergo this phenomenon. They move out of the coral heads or actually parts of them do the poster your parts move out of the coral heads and undergo spontaneous swimming motions as I remember it's first the female worms that send their poster your farts out a nice swim about and the males know perhaps they have it just where they are and I guess the males for years the females they might think they finally get together and there is much swimming about and all of this apparently is mediated by the phases of the moon at the time. And the amount of moonlight available to which they respond to little they won't respond to much they won't respond but when it's just the right threshold amount they will come out and everyone will be there so to speak
for shouting at the eggs and sperm. Also it turns out that the Polynesians are there with nets to gather them up and use are considered healthy. Asimo noted it's rather blunt I suppose this is when they can land right. Do they live in what we would call a structured society. No more than I do my job I don't think so. You don't think you can just talk to termite people or you know people for them thing like that. What do they say have in the ecosystem. They exist but I'd say that that's enough that they they act as food. For fish for other animals. They themselves certain of them are scavengers to clean things up. All right I think I like my first answer best the fact that there are there is enough for their existence. You speak of them as your weapons quite fondly. No they are I don't do they live. I don't know that anyone has ever really just limited
extent of their life but they can certainly Querrey I think it's not unusual to find them there for five or ten years maybe even 20. There are many areas where the foreigner is on no. And this is just how do you feel that the new. Pan-American is going to affect the floor in that it will floor and fall then it will be going from the Pacific to the Atlantic. I can't I think they're going to say I feel strongly. Not so much for what the effect will be but for what it might be. Unfortunately because we don't know what the effect of the canal will be to begin with. Why will it be different in the canal now that it had the canal it is there now has locks right to the new canal. Maybe sea level all will be sea level at the present time get too late because a fresh water body and it. In addition to the locks tends to separate Faunus And actually it's
terra incognita so to speak that that bothers many biologists. We don't know. There have been so few studies on either side of the canal we don't know what is there now. And if the cork is pulled and the oceans meet and mingle disperse we won't have any idea then what was there before all of the mixing take took place. Right now there are there's a certain amount of mixing in the barnacles travel on ship holes through the can now. But this is rather less than would be if there were a whole sound mixing. As a matter of fact it's to this point the fact that we don't know what is there so we can't even say what would happen if we knew what was going to happen. That has prompted me as president of the Biological Society of Washington to propose a symposium to be held
here in Washington which will deal with the extent of our knowledge at the present time the baseline from which hopefully a thorough and exhaustive ecological and biological studies will be carried forth. We will have some 20 specialists in their field both animal and geographic who will say that this is what we don't know. This is what we do know. This is what will have to be done you know order to have a good point of departure to say what may happen or what has happened to any other time yet you feel really a great deal more research that should be done then and particularly before the canal is opened I suppose to find out what is there. Now I think I can you tell what is different until you know what is it you have to have your point of departure. I think we're all fairly reconciled to the fact of the canals happening with tankers getting larger and larger things of this sort. They're going to
have to widen the canal at least and whether it be simpler to dig a new canal or two. Modify the present canal as something else again with this particular kind I believe the Pacific is what high as 6 inches higher than the Atlantic and so I suppose the well it isn't really that way we didn't so much matter of the vision just the difference in height but it's the extent of the time in the on the Atlantic side the tides vary something to the order of 4 feet between high and low tide extremes on the Pacific side. They vary upwards of 18 or 20 feet. This plus differences in temperature. We don't know what's going to happen. We don't even know that they will. There will be any other mixing but there is a possibility and if there is that possibility then we would see a barrier of some sort or hopefully the government would see that the barrier of some sort were
instituted between the two sides by a baddie Oh you mean either a chemical barrier barrier that they are all. Maybe what about heat might well be one of the better ones. Perhaps something an electric field might be developed. I don't know but could you use tidal Gates. But then you're back to locks again in your head. You're going to run foul of the large tankers and aircraft carriers and things of this sort. How did you become interested in world stocks just now I want you to be honest. OK there was a time when I was in graduate school that I I reaped the rewards of my good times as an undergraduate and I had difficulties convincing a graduate advisor that I should indeed become a graduate. And if I felt that the easiest way to convince him that I was made of good material was take
a course from him. Turned out that Ralph Smith at Berkeley was teaching the invertebrate zoology course that spring. So I took it and became enamored of worms. And also as I'm sure a beautiful view. Oh there are so many. We can go back to the basics. The one shape is very common throughout the animal kingdom whether it's the Neil or a war. But here in this this group of animals that I write like you have a basic pattern in so many variations have been played on this basic pattern variations in structure and shape in color and all of these. It's almost never ending. But then there are within a given species there is a constancy of that shape and color and it is just fascinating to see this.
This constancy superimposed on the tremendous diversity Dr. Jones is the curator here at the Smithsonian. Now Frederick M. Phillips talks to Dr. Eugene Wallace about the Johnson ceiling. Dr. Whelan You recently launched a submarine called the Johnson Sea Link that has been described as revolutionary. What is revolutionary about it. Well it has a capability of going down to a thousand feet which is not unusual but at a thousand feet it can lock people out onto the sea floor where they can make studies of the biology and geology of the area into which people come. Also it's not unusual in the materials from which it's made. The first section consists of a sphere made of acrylic. This acrylic is transparent and you can see beautifully anything that you want to see when you're down on the sea floor. If you're actually sitting in a you know it's just as if you were running it
isn't transparent. You can't even see the glass. I'm sure it'll feel very strange to people going down for the first time. This is this is they control this is the cockpit so to speak of the of this actually a fairly small submarine by the way we're conditioned to think of as a seven Marine by military standards. It's a smallish submersible. That's right it's about 22 feet long it weighs nine tons and it will take five people to people in the forward compartment the essentially glass part where you they're the pilot and Observer will be able to see the environment in the after compartment which again is unusual in that it's made of aluminum will generally carry three people two of the people will at any one time be able to walk out of the round on the sea floor. One will be on site as an emergency diver. Will plan at least
initially to have people when they're operating on the sea floor tethered to the submarine that is to say they'll be out of the strain through the cord which should be able to talk to them and we should be able to carry out they can carry on their normal conversations but stay in touch with the people inside the submarine. We were able to recover them if something happens that puts them in danger. It will be used basically to release divers. That's right as an underwater habitat. It will be a mobile habitat. We've had project tech diet and other sea lab experiments of the Navy. We think that for many purposes it would be much more desirable to have a habitat that you can go down in and then move to another place immediately or even walk out while the submarine is moving a few way. How would you compare Is it possible to compare the state of man's knowledge about the terrestrial world and the state of man's knowledge about the oceanic world.
Well I think the statement several years ago by President Kennedy is very opera poll that we even back in his days knew more about the backside of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean. What aspect of studying the backside of the oceanic moon are you going to be addressing with the sea link that you're putting into the water now. We'll be primarily interested in food from the sea and those things that lead toward the domestication and improvement of marine animals. It seems to us that it ought to be possible to develop the dogs the cats the horses the cows the pigs the chickens the equivalent in the ocean. It is to say there must mean many different species which could be turned to man's use and ways that we don't now conceive what we would like to do is to learn the identify identity and location and
distribution and characteristics of these animals so that people can then turn that to the use of man. You're talking about the the domestic herding eventually of sea animals not so much herding as the domestic farming I'm talking about aqua culture as a goal but I'm talking about it in the sense that the Smithsonian presently relates to the Department of Agriculture that is to say we do basic research on plants. We provide information about the genetic composition and the distribution of plants which may be useful to the Department of Agriculture. However we don't carry this step on to the actual breeding of crops. We don't expect to breed crops in the ocean. We expect to establish the capability for the breeding of crops both with all these animals crops and and plant crops.
There is a very interesting situation with regard to plants. There was on the West Coast of the United States up until 1898 a very very large fields of a very large aquatic plant an algae which grows at the rate of about a metre more than three feet each day it may in fact grow as much as a metre an hour under very favorable conditions in spite of the. A man's inability to really detect changes taking place in the Pacific it seems obvious that changes took place in the late 19th century and very early 20th century. So that this plant has become oh much less than one percent as abundant as it was before. We would like to be able to re-establish the plant in appropriate places or perhaps more appropriately to improve
upon the stock so that it will grow under existing conditions in a way that would make it possible for people to farm and it turns out that this particular plant was very useful in making ice cream and other products of useful to man are present source of the related plants. For a while as long as we could use them was the Philippines and then later. Now we've had to shift to Indonesia because we more or less exhausted the supply in the Philippines as well. So that with your new submarine you are. Entering a period of research and study that could be likened to the work that went into developing the what's been called the green revolution in Asia the type of work that was carried on that's been carried on very widely that now has led to far greater crops of wheat and rice and so on in Asia this is the kind of thing you're talking about as you embark on a new phase of Smithsonian oceanographic study with you a new submarine. Yes that's quite correct. Jean let's look at a typical operation that
you might be be mounting with your Johnson Sea Link the the vessel itself is carried on to a mother ship. Yes the tenderer that we'll be using is presently under construction or under reconstruction. A former Coast Guard cutter it's being converted at Port Fort Pierce Florida into a submarine tender. The ship will have on its star and a specialized crane which will mate to the submarine in such a way that it will make solid contact and there and can be picked up without swinging back and forth and standing the danger of banging against the side of the ship. And it will be picked up and carried in a cradle on the stern of the tender Fort Pierce Florida is where the sea link itself was constructed under the supervision of and link. That's correct. And so typically. The same link would be taken out aboard
the tender out to sea. To what sort of area would you be thinking of going to in the early days. Immediately we have some foreign projects in mind. One of them is to go down to the area near Cozumel Mexico where there occurs two rather special species one white man to which has been proposed in various places as a biological control of plants and paw and streams. It was very interesting and relatively unknown biologically. The second is this is obviously a 10 Yeah. The second is a porpoise which is believed to be related to pull specific species of porpoises and is supposed to be a. Spending Parkman's goes around and round very rapidly up in the air and then goes back into the water. It hasn't officially been reported from the Atlantic. It's believed to occur there and we'd like to find it a second
objective or second biological project that we want to undertake is to make a rather complete survey of the reef off of Trinidad to boggle their courage their very well-located reef about three miles from the swimming beaches so that it is easy access from hotels where some of the crew could stay and to make a census relatively small only a couple of miles long. We can make a more or less complete biological and geological survey of this reef within a reasonable period of time studying the shallow portions of the reef by scuba diving and the deeper portion of the reef where the submarine. And then the other projects of immediate interest start to work on the cliffs in the Bahamas there are some very steep slopes and some very interesting caves and apparently some special organisms that live in this area and the further study would be what might be called and it's similar to what the Navy
has called a Navy acre or others have called an ocean acre. This will be an attempt to learn everything there is to know about a particular small part of the bottom of the ocean by going back and forth over it over a long period of years. An area off of Fort Pierce we hope will become so familiar with it that we can predict which animal will be in which area when we go by. When do you see some tangible products of your study or of the overall international study of farming the Seas next year the year afterwards. What can we expect. Well I would like to think that I'm thinking of things that will happen 25 years from now or in the order of 25 years rather than one year. But in order to get there even within 25 years there are certain developments that I think have to take place fairly soon. One of these developments is that it seems to me that we now are halfway toward having the ideal
Underwater Research Program that is to say we have a mobile habitat. We can move around and we can go from place to place and we can explore discover and bring back what you ask earlier. I think what do you do with it when you bring it back. What I would like to do when I bring it back is to establish an underwater permanent habitat. This underwater permanent habitat I actually have prepared as a model or our model shops and developed. It would be located about 50 feet. It would be sitting on a coral bottom and it would be made of concrete where what it would weigh one get are about him. Do you know I have selected a site. I'm not sure that it will actually end up there but the site where I would like to locate it is in the San Blas islands on the Atlantic side of potable. Yes the reason for this being that there are no hurricanes in that area and the water is beautifully transparent you can see 600 fathoms which is about
thirty six hundred feet into the water and the coral growth is lovely. I think we would be able to carry on experiments and the rather on polluted environment when good weather and in an area that's not heavily populated with people for a long period of time. What we would do is to bring the animals back to this area and use it as an agricultural or awkward cultural experiment station bringing in as many people used to do in agriculture the things that you think have promise trying them studying their survival developing their genetics and really learning about them over a long period of time becoming comfortable and working with them and making the step from the exploratory to the domestication phase. Dr. Walden is the director of the Office of Environmental Sciences here at the Smithsonian Institution. Radio Smithsonian is presented weekly at this time produced by Dan McLean the Office of Public Affairs Frederick M. Phillips director.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Radio Smithsonian
Episode Number
The Worms Go In and A Link With the Sea
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-6t0gzc3m).
No description available
Media type
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 70-17-37 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Radio Smithsonian; 37; The Worms Go In and A Link With the Sea,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 11, 2022,
MLA: “Radio Smithsonian; 37; The Worms Go In and A Link With the Sea.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 11, 2022. <>.
APA: Radio Smithsonian; 37; The Worms Go In and A Link With the Sea. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from