Sea monkeys, the fast-hatching brine shrimp commonly sold to children as household pets, are often treated without very much gravitas. Named after their long tails, which resemble monkeys, sea monkeys used to be advertised as frolicsome pets, always clowning around. However, in groups, sea monkeys may have a serious effect on global ocean currents, according to a new scientific research study.

Two researchers from the California Institute of Technology showed that sea monkeys, which have daily vertical migration patterns, make big waves as they swim up and down in the ocean in groups. Sea monkeys are a type of zooplankton.

It may not seem like a single sea monkey, also known as a brine shrimp, which grows to a maximum length of about 0.4 inch, could make a big difference to the ocean. However, two California Institute of Technology researchers posited the theory that in big groups, brine shrimp could have a significant impact on water currents, even as much as wind or tides. They published their study in the journal Physics of Fluids.

Brine shrimp tend to move away from a source of light, so in the evening, they begin a mass migration upwards to the surface of the ocean. In the morning, they migrate down in the ocean. Since all of these tiny shrimp are moving together on such a large scale, John Dabiri and a research partner theorized that this could have a big effect on the ocean. To prove this, they used a smaller collection of sea monkeys to create a simulation.

Ocean currents are an important part of regulating global temperature. Dabiri has studied the effects of animal movement on ocean current for many years. In 2009 he published a research paper about the jellyfish's ability to move water by swimming.

"This was the first hint that animals could transport water over distances much longer than their body size," Dabiri said.

To study the effects of sea monkeys, it was necessary to create a simulation in a lab, because it is difficult to catch sea monkeys migrating in the wild.

"I can't take a ship out into the ocean and know for sure that a bunch of organisms will pass by me," Dabiri said.

To simulate the effects of the vertical migration, Dabiri used lasers to create light. He found that the shrimp did create significant currents. The collective effect of the shrimp moving at the same time caused a larger ocean current change than any one of them could have created on their own.

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