TFK Reading

Deep Sea Discoveries!


By: David Bjerklie

Imagine you are in a small craft, floatng in total, inky darkness, two miles beneath the surface of the ocean. Suddenly, a long string of glowing lanterns, dripping with tentacles, comes into view. It looks like a moving curtain of lights. A saucer-shaped object with rows of blinking jewels floats by. Then, a creature with huge pearly eyes, wicked teeth and headlights stares back at you. Is that an octopus with elephant ears over there? These are just a few of the wonders you will find in the deep ocean, or abyss (a-biss). “Many of these creatures are so rare that they have been seen and photographed only once,”

Every year, more and more of these bizarre creatures are discovered. Last week, an expedition returned from the Celebes Sea near the Philippines. The scientists reported that they had used an underwater camera to search for new species and collected 100 different specimens. According to Larry Madin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, one of their strangest finds was a jet-black jelly.

A World of Total DarknessOf all the places on the planet where life can be found, the largest habitat is the deep ocean. Scientists believe it may also be the most diverse, with even more kinds of living organisms than tropical rain forests have. This watery world has been in complete darkness for 2 billion years. Humans are just beginning to explore the marine frontier. There are better maps of the surface of Mars than of the seafloor. More people have stood on the moon than have reached the deepest point in the ocean.

Deepwater craft called submersibles are helping researchers explore the farthest depths of the seas. The earliest submersibles could move only straight up and down, like underwater elevators. But in the 1970s, scientists designed crafts that they could steer. Using submersibles, scientists can study the behavior of living animals in their environment, rather than just collecting specimens to look at on land.

Don’t Call Them Monsters!The creatures of the deep look like nothing seen anywhere else. These marvels are perfectly adapted to the harsh, strange world of the abyss, and to nowhere else. Since one of the key features of the deep is permanent darkness, animals create their own “living light.” The chemical process is called bioluminescence (bye-oh-loo-mih-ness-ens). Only a few land creatures, like fireflies and glowworms, have this ability.

To our eyes, many creatures of the deep look like monsters. The vampire squid, which seems to be armed with cactus-like spines, looks as scary as its name. This animal has not changed in 200 million years, and can survive in water that holds little oxygen. Other deep-sea creatures may look fierce, but are only an inch or two long!

What really rules the deep ocean are not monsters, but the creatures called jellies. They are one of the earliest forms of life. Some large jellies may live for decades. And don’t let their appearance fool you: Jellies are hunters, always on the prowl.

What Else is Down There?The exploration of the deep is just getting started. According to George Matsumoto of California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the big question for scientists is: What else is down there?

“The deep is like a movie,” says Matsumoto. “It is full of players we can see but don’t know what they do, and even more players whom we have never seen but that have critical roles.” In this movie, all the players are ready for their close-ups.