We stare into the immense vastness of space, wondering what lies beyond the stars, yet in comparison, the speck of dust that is the Earth’s deep water remains unexplored.
The last post was all about the characteristics of the deep ocean (remember, by deep ocean I refer to the Bathypelagic region and below) and various adaptations that animals utilise to be able to live down there. In this post and others upcoming within the series, I’ll be taking you through some examples of the strangeness that lurks in the depths. Everyone knows about the anglerfish, but I’ll tell you now that there are much, much stranger things down there. From bulbous pink worms that look like distangled brains to disco floaties.
Are ya ready, kids?
…aye aye, cap–ah!
Imagine swimming through the ocean, looking down and seeing that face staring up at you.
This is a stargazer. Despite its unfortunate appearance, it spends the majority of its time buried, unmoving in the seabed. Here, it scans the ocean for prey with its upwards-facing eyes. When a fish swims overhead, the stargazer lunges towards its victims. The prey can be forgiven for not noticing it – it’s pretty well hidden, and those eyes and mouth resemble much of the peculiarities on the seafloor surrounding it.
Some species of stargazer are electric and are capable of delivering powerful shocks. Others have a worm-shaped lure growing out of its mouth, which it wriggles around to attract the attention of fish. All are venomous, with two large spines near their gills.
After watching this video, I found that they’re a lot bigger than I had initially thought. I had also thought that their whole bodies were flat – kind of like plaice or flounder – but it turns out they look very much like a normal fish at the back.
It may be the jerky, erratic camerawork or the creepy green light, but I found this video to be truly eerie. Eerie because of the way the animal suspends in the water. Eerie because of its strange, elephant-like ears. And eerie because of the length of those spidery tentacles and their weird ‘elbow’ like shapes. Eerie because we really don’t know a lot about this thing.
It does have a name though – Magnapinna or, more aptly – the Bigfin squid. This footage was captured at 2400 metres (1.5 miles) by the oil company Shell, who had sent an ROV (Remote operated vehicle) down to the depths of one of their drilling sites. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to see this thing on camera for the first time. I’d imagine it would be somewhere between completely awesome and completely NOPE.
The squid’s fins take up to 90% of its body length, and the largest are estimated to have a length of about 8 metres (26ft). And that’s about all we know about it. So far.
This one absolutely terrified me when I first came across it. Looking like something that would be a better fit in Tremors (or any other sci-fi for that matter), the Bobbit worm is pretty gruesome. Distantly related to the common earthworm but a thousand times more scary, the Bobbit worm digs itself into the sea floor with only a few centimeters exposed. There it lies in wait – its non-descript antennae drifting with the current. Waiting for some poor unsuspecting fish to swim by.
And when that unfortunate fish does swim by, the worm strikes. It strikes with such speed and force that it has been known to snap prey in half (!!). The worm’s muscled mouthparts close in on the prey and drag it back into its lair, where the prey is consumed.
The scariest part about this worm is that it can grow to the unexpected length of 3 metres (10ft), and is perfectly capable of hunting prey larger than itself. Imagine this thing biting in your foot and trying to swallow it. It may even break some bones before it realises you’re too big…
(are you glad you’re not a fish yet?)
Here’s another one that’s just a bit creepy.
The goblin shark is a strange-looking creature, there’s no doubt about that. Its long snout helps it look for food on the sea floor by detecting tiny electrical currents given off by its minute prey. Its long, eel-like tail (3.5 metres/11.5ft) helps it move along the ocean floor, but its flabby body and relatively small fins suggests that it doesn’t actually move around all that often.
The retractable jaws may have evolved in response to its laziness. A shark’s gotta’ eat, and a slow swimmer has to have some other way of hunting. Scientists believe that the specialised jaws allow the goblin shark to become more of an ambush predator; drifting towards prey silently until its close enough to snap it up.
Kind of like an assassin. That eats his victims. Yeah.
Finally just to make you feel better, here’s a reminder that they’re not all bad in the big blue. This is Glaucus atlanticus; a sea slug that spends its time floating upside down on the surface tension of the water. It does this to camouflage itself – its blue underside faces upwards to blend in with the colour of the water, and its dorsal side is a silvery grey – matching the colour of the surface from below.
Not only is it stealthy, it’s also quite the little badass. Glaucus atlanticus eats venomous creatures like the Porteuguese Man o’War – one of the deadliest creatures in the entire ocean. It then stores the Man o’ War’s stinging cells – nematocysts – in its own body to use in defense.
It’s essentially a miniature dragon and I want it.
Featured image depits a Bobbit worm, and is sourced from http://nerdclave.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/science-fact-friday-bobbit-worm-graboids.jpg.