Chances are better than slim that this picture has popped up on your Tumblr dashboard (or elsewhere) during your recent internet wanderings. All that strange and beautiful life, present in just a single drop of seawater! A microscopic bestiary overflowing with life’s smallest oddities! Isn’t it amazing?
Just one problem: It’s not true.
This is certainly a collection of zooplankton (what we call non-photosynthetic plankton species), but it’s absolutely not from a single drop of ocean. As Miriam Goldstein explains at Deep Sea News, it’s from a volume more like that of a swimming pool, captured and concentrated in a special net that scientists use to survey these microscopic species. Check the link to find out more about why and how scientists collect these beautiful samples!
So who cares? What’s the difference if it’s a drop or if it’s a swimming pool? The problem is that we’re missing out on some very cool truth by lazily inserting some very cool lies. We don’t need to lie about how amazing nature is. The ocean is (quite literally) full of amazing life. We can celebrate that without inventing a story, right? Because the real story, the one that uses a beautiful image to connect us to actual scientific research, is awesome in its own right.
Although this image has gone viral recently, I posted it five months ago, wrong information and all. I didn’t check to make sure that what I posted was true, and that was my bad. I should do better. We all should.