November 22, 2009—Oil-eating tubeworms and 15-tentacled sea cucumbers are among the 5,000 deep-dwelling species identified by the Census of Marine Life, a ten-year effort to chronicle life in the deep ocean.
© 2009 National Geographic; Video from The Census of Marine Life
--These arent Christmas lights
--This isnt a mutant lobster
--And this fearsome-looking creature is not something youd ever find at the end of your fishing hook.
These are some of the rarely seen sea creatures found deep in the ocean, in a world of total darkness.
Using ultra-sophisticated photographic and sampling techniques, scientists working for the Census of Marine Life have inventoried an astonishing diversity of life beyond the oceans photic zonethe part of the ocean thats too deep for light to seep through.
The Census of Marine life is ten-year long international research program aimed at cataloguing the diversity and distribution of marine life. Over 2000 scientists from 82 countries are participating in the effort.
Five of the Census 14 field projects plumb the oceans depths beyond the photic zone. The results have been astonishing. Thus far, over 5,700 species have been identified, thriving in a world that has never known light. Theyre a diverse assortment of creatures, exotic cousins to species that live closer to the oceans surfacesuch as crabs, shrimp, worms, and jellyfish. They feed mostly on marine snowfine particles of decaying plants and animals that drift to the bottom of the ocean.
Theyre a hardy bunch, these deep sea dwellers. These fish, called orange roughys , can live to be 100 years old.
This fella is known as the wildcat tubeworm because like the wildcatters of old Texas, it drills for oil. When it hits a gusher, it dines on chemicals found in the decomposing oil.
Then, there are the dumbo octopods, given that name because they flap a pair of large ear-like fins to swim, like Dumbo the cartoon elephant. At up to five feet long, they are among the largest of deep sea creatures. But not much is known about them. This dumbo may be a species new to science.
The sea cucumber is a distant cousin of the starfish, that uses 15 tentacles to sweep the oceans detritus into its mouthat the end of its meal, it changes shape and flies off to find another nutritious mud pack.
By the time the Census of Marine life wraps up its mission next fall, the five deep sea projects will have embarked on more than 200 expeditions. The results of the census will be announced in London next October.