Vagabonds of the Sea

Today is the birthday of Victor Hensen, a German physiologist born in 1835, who made his mark studying a teeming array of itinerant microscopic marine organisms. He christened them plankton, after the Greek word for "drifting." While a professor at the University of Kiel, Hensen led a detailed survey of Atlantic plankton--which include algae, bacteria, protozoans, crustaceans, mollusks, and coelenterates--that drift with ocean currents. Plankton are the cellar dwellers of the sea's food web, providing the nutrients for fish, whales, and all other marine creatures.

Hensen was also an expert on the anatomy and physiology of the sense organs. The cells of Hensen and canal of Hensen, both in the inner ear, were named in his honor. He died in 1924.


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