IN THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA, MYSTERIES ABOUND, AND DESPITE EXTREME PRESSURE AND LACK OF SUNLIGHT, SO DOES LIFE!
Descending into the lowest depths of the ocean is akin to an extraterrestrial adventure. That said, you never leave the surface of the Earth. But the unique creatures and intense atmospheric conditions still make for an otherworldly experience. Few people know this better than James Cameron, the director of blockbuster films like 1997’s Titanic and 2009’s Avatar.
Cameron’s history-making expedition in the Challenger Deep took him to the Mariana Trench’s deepest point — a mind-boggling 35,787 feet. There, he experienced “complete isolation from all of humanity,” describing the ocean’s bottom as “a very soft, almost gelatinous, flat plane, almost featureless [and] a completely alien world.”
This begs the question: What’s at the bottom of the ocean? It’s tough to say, considering more than 80 percent remains unexplored. But here’s what we know.
NATURE’S PERFECT DEEP-SEA FISHERS
Sure, life at the bottom of the ocean comes with plenty of pressure. But that doesn’t stop a fascinating variety of animals and fish from calling it home. That said, intense pressure coupled with little to no sunlight has resulted in some strange-looking critters.
What are examples of species you might find in the ocean’s farthest reaches? They include the gulper eel and anglerfish. How have these fish adapted to life at the bottom? By relying on bioluminescence to attract prey! In the case of the anglerfish, its bioluminescence is concentrated in a natural lure attached to its head.
Like an actual fishing lure, it draws prey close enough for the anglerfish to swallow them whole — literally. In other words, they’re nature’s perfect deep-sea fishermen despite being … well, fish themselves. What’s another fascinating feature of these fish? Jaws of enormous size, capable of swallowing prey whole.
As for the gulper eel? The name says it all. Like anglerfish, they have massive mouths, allowing them to swallow much larger animals. Because of the disproportionately enormous size of their jaws, they’ve earned the well-deserved nickname “pelican eel.”
What are some other creatures of the deep sea? They include one of the largest animals in the world, the giant squid. Rarely observed in the wild, they hang out at depths of 3,000 feet!
Which other marine animals like to stick to insane depths? The oh-so-adorable snailfish. How low can it go? It depends on the species.
For example, the arbiter snailfish is found off the northeastern Pacific Ocean, where it likes to hang out between 2,700 and 8,900 feet. But the Pseudoliparis snailfish has been filmed off Japan’s coast happily splashing around at mind-blowing depths of 27,349 feet!
What else might you see in the open ocean’s alien ecosystem? Sharks. They play a crucial role in keeping marine environments well-balanced. Some, like the Greenland shark, prefer to live at depths of up to 7,200 feet! While they can’t reach the same depths as a snailfish, they outlive them by a long shot! Greenland sharks can live for at least 300 years.
Other marine animals that call the ocean’s greatest depths home include tube worms, cookie-cutter sharks, frilled sharks, blob sculpins, proboscis worms, goblin sharks, and sea spiders. You’ll also find giant isopods. Think roly-poly backyard bugs measuring a whopping 16 inches long! That’s the size of a small dog.
WHY DON’T WE KNOW MORE?
There’s plenty about the bottom of the ocean that we still don’t know. One of the reasons for this is the inherent challenge of deep diving, like James Cameron did. It’s an expensive and perilous endeavor not for the faint of heart.
Sadly, the crew and passengers of Oceangate’s Titan submersible found this out firsthand after their vessel catastrophically imploded, killing all on board. It’s no wonder people often liken deep sea exploration to space exploration. And while you do get to stay on the planet, most researchers agree that deep-sea exploration is actually more challenging than traveling to space.