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2023 Recap: Our Most Popular Marine Stories, Podcasts, Photos, and Videos

December 15, 2023

To wrap up the year, check out the most popular stories, photos, videos, and podcasts of 2023.

Multiple schools of colorful fish blanket a coral reef. Fish community on a reef offshore of Baker Island, a remote equatorial island. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jeff Milisen

Wow, what a year! Take a look at our top stories, photos, podcasts, and videos of 2023. Did yours make the list? Scroll on down to see which topics were most popular. 

Top Features

Seals, sea lions, and whales, oh my: Three of our top five stories in 2023 featured these whales. 

1. Is It a Seal or a Sea Lion?

The most popular story of the year is all about seals and sea lions, and the distinct characteristics that tell them apart.

Get a refresh on the differences between seals and sea lions

Infographic showing illustrated seal and sea lion and describing the differences between the two animals, such as ears, body size, flippers, etc.
At first glance, seals (true or “earless seals”) and sea lions look fairly similar. Taking a closer look, these are some of the general differences to tell these animals, such as on the harbor seal (left) and California sea lion (right) pictured above.

2. Toxic Algal Bloom Suspected in Dolphin and Sea Lion Deaths in Southern California

Second place goes to a much more serious topic: a toxic algal bloom in Southern California. In the first weeks of June 2023, there was a rapid growth of harmful algae along parts of the Southern California Coast. It was believed to have killed hundreds of California sea lions and close to 60 dolphins. Stranding Network asked beachgoers to keep a safe distance and report strandings.

Learn more about the toxic algal bloom in Southern California

Deceased dolphin lying on a beach
Deceased dolphin as a result of domoic acid poisoning. Credit: Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute

3. Inbreeding Contributes to Decline of Endangered Killer Whales

Our third most popular feature focused on new science, specifically new genome sequencing that showed Southern Residents are highly inbred.
Find out how inbreeding is contributing to the decline of endangered killer whales

An adult orca is swimming underwater, and a calf is next to its dorsal fin. The calf is surfacing from the water.

4.Successful Effort to Rescue an Entangled Humpback Whale in Alaska

Fourth on the list was a story on trained responders freeing a humpback whale from a life-threatening entanglement near Gustavus, Alaska.

Learn more about the successful effort to rescue an entangled humpback whale in Alaska

This aerial drone image shows the complexity of the entanglement through the mouth and wrapped around the flukes.
The team approaches the whale with specialized tools to remove the gear. This aerial drone image shows the complexity of the entanglement through the mouth and wrapped around the flukes. Credit: Sean Neilson, used with permission. Taken under NOAA MMHSRP Permit No. 24359

Whale Week: Celebrating the Wonder of Whales

Lastly, Whale Week made the top five stories of 2023. This campaign is one of our favorites of the year, highlighting NOAA's robust work studying, recovering, and conserving these magnificent marine mammals.

Discover more about Whale Week

Graphic for Whale Week featuring illustrations of long-finned pilot whale, sperm whale, beluga whale, and North Atlantic right whale
Whale Week 2023.

Top Podcasts

Listen up! Check out the five most downloaded podcasts of the year, which covered topics that ran the gamut from cooperative research with sport fishers and habitat restoration and dam removals to reflecting on 50 years of the Endangered Species Act. 

1. Cooperative Research: Citizens and Government Working Together to Study Fisheries

Anglers hold a vermillion rockfish.
Anglers hold a vermillion rockfish. Credit: Mark Kalez.

How sport fishers are improving West Coast fisheries.

Listen to the podcast

2. Restoring the Klamath River Basin: The Largest Dam Removal Project in the World

The Klamath River mouth. Credit: Thomas Dunklin
The Klamath River mouth. Credit: Thomas Dunklin

How the restoration of the Klamath watershed, the largest dam removal project in the world, will reopen access to habitat for the threatened and endangered native fish of the area.

Listen to the podcast

3. Shark Surveys and Lesson Plans: A Multitasking Teacher at Sea

Maronda Hastie holds a snowy grouper
Maronda Hastie holds a snowy grouper. Credit: NOAA Teacher at Sea.

Hear about the Teacher at Sea program from this interview with Maronda Hastie, one of our recent teachers, who went above and beyond to bring what she learned to her students.

Listen to the podcast

4. The Endangered Species Act at 50

Gray whale breaches, or leaps up and out of the water, with mountains in the background.
Gray whale breaching. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Merrill Gosho

In 2023, we celebrated 50 years of the Endangered Species Act! NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit celebrated the Act and discusses why it is such a foundational law.

Listen to the podcast

5. A Citizen's Guide to Fishery Management

Northeast fishing boats
New England fisheries. Credit: NOAA

Hear how regional fishery management councils shape the management of our nation's fisheries.

Listen to the podcast

Top Photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, and our top five speak volumes.

Collage of the top photos of 2023, including illustrated whale species, Al Roker with Danielle Blacklock, coral restoration, and two species of sharks
Collage of the top five most popular photos from 2023 across our NOAA Fisheries social media channels.

Top Videos

Watch these fan favorite videos, including special appearances from a humpback whale rescue, North Atlantic right whale migration patterns, leatherback sea turtles, an adorable beluga named Tyonek, and the filtration power of oysters! 

1. “Whale” of a Rescue Effort 

Watch this amazing whale rescue! When a young humpback whale was entangled near Gustavus, Alaska, a team of trained responders quickly got to work, using planes, drones, and boats to find the whale and assess its condition. The team used specialized gear—including a 25-foot-long pole with a knife attached to the end, and grappling hooks with razor-sharp knife blades inside the grapple to cut as they grab. They made several cuts in the lines entangling the whale, and it was able to swim away!

More on the whale rescue in Alaska

2. North Atlantic Right Whale Migratory Pattern 

This visualization illustrates the risk whales face every day. It shows the migratory path of a 1-year-old North Atlantic right whale satellite-tagged off the Virginia/North Carolina coast in March 2021. 

Learn more about North Atlantic right whales 

3. Applying Satellite Tags to Leatherback Sea Turtles in Florida

Get a closer look at how NOAA scientists in the panhandle of Florida apply satellite tags to leatherback sea turtles to learn where they are and how they use the water so we can better protect them from bycatch and other threats. Sea turtles have been around for millions of years, and we want them to be around for millions more.

Learn more about tagging leatherback sea turtles in Florida

4. Tyonek the Beluga 5-Year Update 

The success story behind the rehabilitation of the abandoned baby beluga rescued in 2017 involved several agencies and a 4,000-mile journey. Five years later, Tyonek is thriving! He has learned to dive, vocalize, and socialize. Scientists hope to learn a lot about this endangered species.

Learn more about Tyonek's story

5. Oyster Filtration Demonstration

Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are essential to all life. When excess nutrients end up in coastal waters (from stormwater, fertilizers, and other runoff), algae and seaweed can grow out of control. This can cause environmental problems like low oxygen and algal blooms. But, oysters can help! Shellfish such as oysters and clams feed on microscopic algae in the water—a single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water every day. At our lab in Milford, Connecticut, we wanted to see just how well this natural filtration method worked, so we added algae to two tanks: one with oysters and one without. Watch this time lapse to see how effective they really are.

More on oyster reef habitat

Thank You

Thank you for joining us throughout this year. We are excited to keep sharing important news and science on marine life and ocean resources in 2024stay tuned!