Sunday 21 April 2013

Deep Scenes from Wiring the Abyss

Here's a fantastic video from Ocean Networks Canada, featuring some highlights from their Wiring the Abyss expedition of 2012.

This Sea Cucumber is one of my favourites. What else would you expect to see if you opened Pandora's Box and unleashed all the evils of the world? A big, black cloud of noxious gas? A great, big dragon who lets out a big, black cloud of noxious gas every time he huffs and puffs? A pile of fortune cookies with stuff like "hate is cool" written inside?

Nope! Of course it's a Sea Cucumber! A small, translucent Sea Cucumber with weird little legs and weird little muck-plungers around its mouth. And a strange suggestion of devil wings on its back, as it floats in the darkness with ease, leisure and malevolence.

Let's cross our tentacles and hope they're not all quite so fiendish down there!

It's a cushion! A cushion with legs, quietly cruising through the sea. How comforting! It looks like a Big Red Jellyfish, which can reach 75 cm (2.5 ft) across and has been spotted all around the Pacific Ocean.

They're weird because they don't have tentacles. Those chubby leg things are oral arms. Most jellyfish have oral arms for digesting the prey they catch with their tentacles. This one has stubby arms and no tentacles at all, so it clearly can't cast a wide net. Which makes one wonder how it gets all the food it needs.

It keeps its cards close to its chest, because its arms are too short to do otherwise.

More frantic and hyperactive than our big, red cushion, this appears to be a small worm. It looks like a polychaete of some kind, with long, bristly, parapods on its sides being used like frenetic flippers. We've seen similar annelids like the Squidworm and Tomopteris in the past, but this looks like a different one. It's getting a good workout, whatever it is! I could never live like that.

It's that flipping crab again!

It's a Comb Jelly! Doing absolutely nothing at all! Well... actually it's doing quite a lot. Comb Jellies are the ones with 8 rows of tiny cilia on their body. Cilia are like teeny hairs, and they wave in the water like dominoes, falling in a line and then picking themselves up so they can fall all over again. Eugh! It's never ending! But at least the cilia sparkle in the light so it looks pretty.

From the body dangle the two, long tentacles that secrete a kind of glue for catching prey. That's one way we know this isn't a Bloodybelly, since Bloodybellies have their tentacles worming around the thick, muscular lip-type-things that surround their mouth.

A Grenadier eyes the new neighbours suspiciously. "What are they doing over there?"

Grenadiers are a whole bunch of deep sea fish that seem to have lost most of their tail. Their body just ends at a point. They don't even have a tail fin, the anal fin simply runs all the way to the end. I guess being intently curious about anything that isn't a flat patch of mud is one way this fish finds the food it needs to survive.

What's this? Is that a stocking? What are they doing over there?

I really have no clue what this is!

Sea Spider! Obviously it's not an actual spider. That would be absurd! They're a completely different group of exclusively marine arthropods that use their proboscis to suck up the juices of sponges and sea anemones.

They're hardly the most active of fellows; there's very little in the way of bursts of speed or lunging from the darkness. Were you to scream as a Sea Spider walked toward you, you would be screaming for a long time.

However, if you remember A to B in the Deep Sea, you'll know that some Sea Spiders can actually swim! For one, they can spread their legs and sort of paddle along. The Sea Spider in this video seems to really dislike where it was going, so it does the other swim style. It flings its legs back for a burst of speed and then paddles its small, non-leg appendages. And then it seems to sink because it isn't holding its legs out any more.

A long chain of Salps. They're a kind of tunicate, those weird chordates that shunned the mighty backbone and ended up looking completely different from anything that has a backbone.

Salps demonstrate the bitter truth, that we're all tubes with a load of stuff hanging off. Salps take water in one end and release it from the other, filtering out food and oxygen as it goes. They also use the release of water as a propulsion system. It's pure minimalism, cutting out all that "arms and organs" business as too much busy-work and complicated adornment.

It's different when they reproduce, though. Salps clone themselves to form those long chains of Salps. They start off as female and have a couple of eggs inside them. Then they mate, and the egg develops within her body via a kind of placenta. Then the youngster is released to form its own chain of Salps. Meanwhile, the mother uses up all her eggs and turns into a male.

Now he can go looking for a female. He can really empathise with the difficulties of pregnancy, because he really has gone through it all himself.

This is an utter tank! Just look at it! The power. The POWER! I want one. A GIANT one. So I can ride it to the supermarket and say "fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell cookies" until someone gives me cookies.

It's a crab, of course. But it has six walking legs. Six! Instead of eight! This means it's probably a King Crab of some kind. Which means it's not a "true crab", and is more closely related to Porcelain Crabs and Coconut Crabs. Also stuff I haven't written about yet, like Hermit Crabs. And I haven't written about King Crabs, either.


Why is the world so... BIG?

Ah! It's another Sea Cucumber! This one looks less like the Unexpected Face of All Evil and more like a stomach. Maybe a liver?

There it is, flexing its disgusting body to and fro. I don't think it's Enypniastes, the world's favourite swimming Sea Cucumber. This one doesn't look as well adapted to the active life, so the swimming appears much more laborious. Still, we all have to start somewhere and every time a bell rings, a Sea Cucumber gets its wings. So that's nice.

It's a Black Smoker! These are the hydrothermal vents, where poisonous, boiling hot, volcanic chemicals burst from the earth and form a kind of murderous camp fire. Like if a wish was granted by an evil genie. I knew big, black clouds of noxious gas would be in here, somewhere!

Hmm... not gas exactly, since the incredible pressure of the deep sea forces it to remain liquid. It's incredibly hot, incredibly acidic and incredibly poisonous, though. So that's good. On contact with the cold water, some of the chemicals are deposited to create these amazing chimneys and you end up with a hellish, ill-begotten architecture that few can survive.

There are, however, certain bacteria who feed and thrive on the poisonous chemicals, giving rise to an entire ecosystem of diverse organisms, like mountains of life rearing up from the rock and mud. Our version of it over here is called Glastonbury Festival.

A skate wanders lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er post-apocalyptic vales and bombed out hills.

These are amazing rocks! I love this stuff! I presume it's some strange, volcanic formation that happens with all the water and pressure and so on, but they look a lot like ruins. Some of the stones could even be pillars from some ancient temple...

Mermaids? Elder Things? Chaos monster and Mesopotamian goddess of the ocean, Tiamat? Perhaps we'll find out some day. Maybe on the Final Day.

Billions of tube worms. They remind me of the static I used to see on my television back when technology allowed such things. Ahhhh... static. I used to love early 90s static. I would watch it with my breakfast cereal, talk about it with all my friends at school and then run home to watch a few more hours of static. Memories...

These annelids are the complete opposite of the hyperactive ones we saw swimming all over the place; they select a rock or sediment as a home and then stay there forever. These look like Beard Worms of some kind, which are usually just a millimetre (0.04 in) across and up to 75 cm (2.5 ft) long. They secrete a tube for themselves out of chitin, but lack a mouth, anus and any guts in between. Apparently they just absorb their food from the water.

The Tube Worm Temple. This monument is a community of tube worms clinging to the craggy landscape around a black smoker. They look like the famous ones found only around the hydrothermal vents. They have red plumes full of a peculiar haemoglobin that absorbs oxygen and poisonous hydrogen sulphide without ill effect.

Oxygen is good for the worm, but the poisons go to a special internal organ where the worm hosts a huge colony of bacteria. The bacteria feast on the poison, producing sugars which are good eating for the worm. It's a bit like a cow with their gut full of fermenting bacteria who break down the cellulose for them. Although I think hydrogen sulphide is significantly less palatable than grass.

And through it all, an octopus lounges on and doesn't care. At all. Is he fast asleep? I swear he's fast asleep! Ah well. I guess all this deep sea life is all politics if you have to live with it day in, day out. Perhaps he's thinking about all those weird creatures you get on land. Like cows... and grass.


OK. So that's quite a few words. And I didn't even mention the Cusk Eel, the Crinoid, Sea Pens, Snake Stars, the Venus Flytrap Sea Anemone, the mesmerising shrimp, the squid that REALLY wants to know what's going on around here, the bubbles, bones and I barely touched on the beautiful ugliness of all those treacherous rocks!

But now I'm going to make like an octopus, rest my head on my tentacles and relax.


TexWisGirl said...

just loaded with stuff today! the jellyfish looks like someone took a medical glove, blew it up and tied it off to float. :)

Joseph JG said...

It does! I guess it's message in a bottle if you want it to float on the surface and message in a medical glove if you want it to drift a little deeper.