From The Deep, Dark Sea

From The Deep, Dark Sea – the collection at Monterey Bay Acquarium includes some residents of the deepest part of the sea

Nora Steiner Mealy

That “talking head” you just met is a strange creature called a predatory tunicate (PRED-uh-tor-ee TOON-uh-kit). It uses its huge hood to trap and dine on any small creatures that pass by.

The tunicate is just one of many wonderfully weird animals that live in the dark depths of the sea. Until recently, many had never been seen before. No aquarium or zoo had ever exhibited them. That’s because many of the animals usually died when brought up from the deep–they couldn’t survive the sudden changes in their surroundings.

But now, for the first time ever, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has put these living deep-sea creatures into an exhibit. This awesome display is called “Mysteries of the Deep.”

Creating the display was no easy job. The aquarium had to first find and collect the animals. Most were in places too deep and difficult for divers to get to. So the aquarium went for a Star Wars sort of solution– they sent a robot submarine, called the Ventana, after the creatures.

The Ventana was controlled by scientists on a ship at the surface. They sent the robot down several thousand feet to get the animals. And it gently grabbed them with one of its armlike “claws.” Then it brought them up.

The next challenge was to keep these newly found treasures alive. Could the aquarium scientists succeed in doing this when others had failed? They set out to try. First, they built special tanks. The tanks copied the conditions in the deep sea. For example, they were filled with very cold water and kept nearly dark.

Computers helped control things in the tanks, such as the water temperature and oxygen level. These couldn’t vary at all. Even a slight change could kill some animals. And, guess what? Most of the animals made it and are doing well!

REALLY GETTING DOWN

Off the coast of central California lies an awesome place–Monterey Canyon (see map). It’s a steep-sided, rocky valley that’s mighty B-I-G– even deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Too bad it’s on the floor of the sea, where we can’t visit it ourselves!

You might guess that a deep, dark, and cold canyon wouldn’t be much of a home for animals. Well, guess again! Here in the canyon’s spooky depths live all sorts of strange creatures. And it’s these animals that the Monterey Bay Aquarium has brought up for their exhibit.

Back in the canyon, these animals survive in what people would call a very unfriendly place. In fact, we’d die there from the icy cold water, the low levels of oxygen, and the crushing weight of all that water on our bodies. But many different animals do just fine there.

UP AGAINST THE WALL

The deep-sea animals of Monterey Canyon hang out in three different kinds of places. Some live on the canyon’s walls–on nearly every square inch of the walls, in fact. Many look like flowers with delicate petals (see photos at left and above). They feed on bits of food drifting past. Deep- water crabs and fish often hide among these colorful creatures.

Still other animals lurk in what is called the canyon’s midwater region. This is the water that’s way below the surface but above the sea floor. It is so deep that the sunlight doesn’t reach it. And the last group of super-survivors hangs out at the very bottom of the canyon along its floor.

W-A-Y DOWN UNDER

The creatures seem to get creepier-looking as you go down, down, down into Monterey Canyon. They may look weird, but that’s because their world is so different from ours. And in the dark, cold waters, these animals have their own tricks for surviving life in the deep.

Take the midwater eelpout. It curls up its squishy body when under attack. This seems to confuse its enemies.

The giant red mysid has a tough covering for protection. It also plays a trick when an enemy comes near. The mysid squirts out a glow-in-the-dark cloud. This startles the enemy, letting the mysid slip away. “Sorry, gotta glow!”

Life way down under is full of wonders that scientists are just beginning to discover.

TAKING A DIVE

The Ventana, an underwater robot, is lowered into the sea. Its mission: to gather deep-sea treasures for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

AT THE READY

Scientists aboard a nearby ship watch images on screens. These images are from cameras on the Ventana. From here, scientists direct the robot’s moves.

SOME SHRIMP!

Behind the scenes, a scientist checks on some giant red mysids (MY-sids)- -a kind of shrimp. Each is kept in a separate container. This way they won’t eat one another–a nasty little habit of theirs.

COOL CANYON

California’s offshore wonder–Monterey Canyon–plunges more than two miles (3.22 km) under the ocean’s surface.

WHAT A WALL

A group of kids checks out some of the canyon-wall creatures in one of the aquarium’s big tanks. The flower-like soft corals are some of their favorites.

CORAL MAGIC

A mushroom soft coral is covered with weird bumps (1). Each bump is a tiny animal called a polyp (POL-up). The polyps pop out their sticky tentacles to snag their meals (2).

WHAT A POUT

An eelpout curls up when disturbed. Maybe this fools its enemies. In the dim waters of the canyon, the eelpout may look like a poisonous jellyfish. Who’d want to mess with that?

DEEP WONDERS

This mysid, above, has a spiky, armored covering for extra protection.

The spotted ratfish, below, swims along the canyon floor looking for tasty worms or clams.

COPYRIGHT 2000 National Wildlife Federation

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group