Stamp Stories: Ocean

Just for Kids!
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37-cent Pacific Coral Reef pane of ten stamps

Dive into an underwater exploration with special guest Carol Kaufmann, author of the book Ocean. Learn about some of the amazing creatures that live in the ocean all over the world and discover both US and international stamps that match the animals in the book.

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Maureen: Hi, I’m Maureen Leary from the National Postal Museum.

Carol: And I’m Carol Kaufmann. I wrote a book called Ocean.

Maureen: I’d like to welcome you to Stamp Stories, where we explore topics that appear on postage stamps. New stamps come out every year about a wide variety of topics. Today we’re going to look at some ocean animal stamps, and Carol is going to share her book with us.

Carol: I love ocean animals, Maureen, and it’s important to take care of their home - the ocean. A great way to start is by learning about the creatures that live there. And we’re going to look at them in a photicular book. That means images are put together to show movement. To write this book, I traveled to the country of Belize where I went scuba diving to see coral reefs. I’ve also gone down a mile and a half to the very bottom of the Pacific Ocean and wrote about what I saw.  Let’s dive right in!

Look at these fish with their big lips! It’s that mouth that gives them their name. They’re called Sweetlips. They live about 30 feet underwater on coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

The adult fish have bright colors and bold patterns. This helps them find a mate. But when they are young, they have dull colors. This makes it harder for predators to find them. As they grow up, their patterns and colors become brighter, and more noticeable. And they will grow to be about three feet long.

Why do you think this octopus is named after the flying elephant Dumbo? Here’s a hint – think about these! But on an octopus, those big flappy things are fins, not ears. See those eight tentacles? They use them as both arms and legs to grab creatures to eat and move along the ocean floor. Octopuses are also very intelligent. And they’ve been living in the ocean for 500 million years – even before fish.

Look at the tiny seahorse! Seahorses can be as small as a half an inch or a little over a foot. They spend all their time looking for food. But they have no teeth. And they have no stomach. They have to inhale food almost constantly through their snout, so they don’t starve. Like other fish, sea horses breathe through gills and have fins. But unlike other fish, they have a neck and don’t swim very well.

Look at those teeth! These sharks may look like they’d eat you. But they won’t. They’re not aggressive at all. If you saw one in the ocean, they would most likely swim away. Those long, hooked teeth are used for snaring small fish and mollusks as they move along the ocean floor. Like other sharks, sand tiger sharks are top predators on the food chain. And if these top predators weren’t around, the fish and shellfish populations would grow so large that ocean life could be thrown completely out of balance.

Sea turtles begin their lives on land. They hatch from eggs and immediately crawl into the ocean. Many things could happen to them along the way – or once they get into the water – but if they survive, they can live for 80 years. The shells of green sea turtles actually range in color from olive to black. They eat mostly sea grasses and algae, which turns their fat a greenish hue – and that’s why they have their name. They can grow up to be five feet long and weigh 700 pounds.

Here's another fearsome-looking predator – the Geometric Moray Eel. Look at their sharp, slender teeth and their constantly moving jaw. Their mouths are always moving because they need a continuous flow of water through their bodies in order to breathe. That motion pushes oxygen-rich water in through their mouths and out through the back of their heads. Like our sand tiger shark, the eel is not aggressive. They wait for food to come to them rather than get it themselves.

This is a jellyfish called a sea nettle. Not all jellyfish sting, but this one does! This sea nettle has thousands of stinging cells that can paralyze prey as it floats by. The nettles move by pushing water out from below their opening. There are a lot of these jellies! So many they are threatening other ocean creatures. And many of their natural predators have been wiped out.

Have you ever seen such a bizarre-looking fish? This is the Anglerfish and it lives in the deep, deep ocean – more than a mile below the surface. It’s hard for anything to live here because there’s not much to eat. So how do they get their food? Well, the female fish attracts prey with a pole-like extension from her head that lights up.  That light attracts other fish. And when the other fish comes near, she swallows them whole. What if the prey is bigger than she is? No problem! She expands her body – sometimes twice its size – to eat a big meal. Male anglerfish depend on the female for food – because they can’t light up like she does!

Maureen: Thanks for sharing your fascinating book with those captivating images, Carol! I know both of us love ocean animals, and I had so much fun finding postage stamps to go along with the animals in your book. The world is filled with beautiful ocean images on stamps - let’s take a look.

Let’s start by looking at a world map. This map shows how our round planet would look if it were laid out flat. I’ve labeled the seven continents, as well as the five oceans: the Pacific, which is on both sides of the map, the Atlantic, the Indian, the Southern, and the Arctic. We use those names to tell the locations apart, but really those five oceans make up one big ocean that covers our whole planet! You can see how much of the earth is covered in water, and it’s so important to protect our ocean in order to keep the whole planet healthy.

Here I’ve marked the spot for Washington, DC, which is where the National Postal Museum and most of the Smithsonian museums are located. I’ve also marked the US territory of Guam, in the South Pacific, and that brings us to the first stamp we’re going to see.

The animal on the cover of the Ocean book is a sweetlips fish. This stamp of a sweetlips was issued as part of a set of stamps that includes more than 30 animals. In the ocean near Guam, scientists have found 6000 marine species, and over 250 different kinds of coral. Coral is so important because the places where it grows are called reefs, and reefs provide habitats for so many ocean animals. Sweetlips fish live on the coral reef and eat smaller animals they find there, like crustaceans and worms.

Here’s a look at the whole Pacific coral reef scene from the set, which includes ten postage stamps. Do you notice all the places where it says USA 37? Each is a separate stamp! Can you spot the sweetlips?

Our next animal is the Dumbo octopus, and the stamp is from Sierra Leone, which is a small country on the Atlantic coast of the massive African continent.

We already learned that the Dumbo octopus lives in the deep, dark ocean. They are actually the deepest living octopus known to scientists. Here’s a fun fact about that - unlike most octopuses, the Dumbo octopus doesn’t have an ink sac because it rarely encounters predators in the deep sea. Fortunately, the dumbo octopus doesn’t face much of a direct threat from humans, either, since they live so far down in the ocean, beyond where humans are active. However, the increase in ocean pollution could harm them, along with all their deep-sea neighbors.

Next we’re moving to another spot on the African continent, and we’ll take a look at a seahorse stamp from South Africa, which is located at the southern tip of the continent, with coastlines on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

You have to look closely to see the animals on this stamp. There are two seahorses hiding amid the coral. Seahorses are able to change their color and camouflage, protecting them from predators. This stamp is part of a series that shows a coral reef, like the one we looked at with the sweetlips on it.

The seahorse stamp is part of a set showing South African Marine Life. Can you spot the seahorses on the reef? In this scene they look much bigger than they would in the ocean. Most seahorses are actually tiny and excellent at hiding.

Next up is the sand tiger shark, which we’ll see on a set of stamps from Tuvalu. Tuvalu is a small island country in the Pacific Ocean. It lies about halfway between Hawai’i and Australia.

Sand tiger sharks can be found all over the world’s oceans, and they often like to swim near the shoreline. This is how they get their name. In some parts of the world they are called grey nurse sharks or spotted ragged-toothed sharks. They are the only shark known to come to the surface to gulp air. Unlike many other sharks, they don’t need to keep swimming in order to breathe. They often lay still on the ocean floor, and pump water through their gills by opening and closing their mouths. The sand tiger shark is just one of over 500 species of sharks that have been discovered so far. Many shark species are already near extinction or are threatened. It’s so important to protect sharks because, as Carol told us, they help to keep ocean life in balance.

Our next stop to check out the green sea turtle is the tiny island country of Barbados. This island is in the Caribbean Sea, which is part of the Atlantic Ocean. The terms “ocean” and “sea” are often used to mean the same thing, but when we talk about seas that have names, like the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, that refers to a small section of the ocean that connects to land. Every sea is part of one of the world’s five oceans, and together, they create one huge, connected, worldwide ocean.

Sea turtles are found in the ocean all over the world.  And you can also find sea turtles on stamps from many countries. In addition to the green sea turtle, there are six other species in the ocean, and sadly they are all threatened or endangered. Here’s one way you can help them: reuse or recycle plastic as much as you can to help keep it out of the trash and out of the ocean. Sea turtles often mistake plastic for jellyfish and then try to eat it, because jellies make up a big part of their diet, along with seagrass and algae.

Next we’re heading on over to the Republic of Maldives in the Arabian Sea, which is part of the Indian Ocean. The Maldives are made up of hundreds of tiny islands - many of them are formed by coral reefs. Coral reefs are very important because they support over 25% of all the life in the ocean.

Like many ocean animals, eels rely on coral reefs for protection and food. They spend most of their time hiding in the reefs, staying out of sight of predators. They have very bad eyesight, so they use their strong sense of smell to detect prey. When it goes by, the eel ambushes it. More than 200 species of moray eels can be found worldwide. The eel we see here is a close relative of the geometric moray we saw in the book, and this family of eels is only found in the Indian Ocean.

To take a look at our next stamp, we’ll hop over to the Asian continent. The sea nettle stamp we’ll see is from Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. It’s located on the edge of mainland China, on the South China Sea, which is part of the Pacific Ocean.

Sea nettles and other jellies can be mesmerizing to watch, but the world has too many of them.  Their numbers have increased to the point that they are now causing problems. When we talk about protecting the ocean, we usually focus on animals that are threatened or endangered because of human behavior. Well, this animal is the opposite of threatened - there are swarms of them since their natural predators, like sea turtles, have become endangered. Warming ocean temperatures are also thought to increase the size of jelly populations.

Our final stop on our ocean animal stamp tour is the Faroe Islands, where we’ll check out an anglerfish stamp. Most of the places we’ve stopped so far are warm water locations. This one is a bit different. The Faroe Islands are way up in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Iceland and Norway. Since it’s so far north, the waters around the Faroe Islands are very cold, especially down deep where we find the anglerfish.

As Carol told us, Anglerfish attract prey through the extension on their heads that lights up. This process is called bioluminescence. Some marine animals have this feature - especially ones that live in the deep ocean where the sunlight can’t reach them. The deep ocean is a pretty harsh environment, and the anglerfish is not a picky eater - it grabs whatever comes its way, and it sometimes stores food in its body in case another meal doesn’t come along for a while.

Carol: Maureen, that was so much fun to see postage stamps that match all the ocean creatures from the book!

Maureen: Yes, and there are so many more ocean animals on stamps. Researching and collecting ocean stamps is a terrific way to learn more about the ocean and all the fascinating creatures in it. We’ve really just scratched the surface.

Carol: Whether it’s through books, stamps, or visits to a museum, aquarium, or the ocean itself, learning about the ocean is a great step toward taking action to protect it.

Maureen: Definitely! I hope everyone enjoyed this video and found some inspiration while learning something new. Thank you so much for joining us, Carol, and special thanks to Workman Publishing for granting permission to share your book. And thank you to our audience for joining us for Stamp Stories. We encourage you to just keep exploring!