Deep Sea Mysteries

Just finished reading Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft, which I recommend for fans of Lovecraftian Horror. The mystery and horror elements involve the sea to some degree, and it started me thinking over the countless nature shows I’ve absorbed over the years. I LOVE nature shows, and deep sea critters are among my favorites to learn about.

Jeremy Wade with a 7-foot long Wels Catfish

A recent series I latched onto was River Monsters. Hosted by Jeremy Wade, a British biologist and angler, the show follows the host as he pursues mysteries of killer freshwater fish. Spoiler alert: 9 times out of 10, the culprit is some sort of catfish. After watching many episodes of this show, I now will never swim in murky water again.

One of the great deep sea mysteries of all time is the story of the Coelacanth. Assumed extinct, this bony fish had disappeared from the fossil record some 65 million years ago. In 1938, a museum curator was sent photos of what turned out to be a formerly living coelacanth caught by a fishing trawler of the south-eastern coast of Africa. In the 1970s, a biologist traveling in Indonesia actually saw a coelacanth carcass for sale in a fish market, and later research discovered the two areas contained different species of the primitive fish.

Divers who set out to find and photograph coelacanths had a bit of luck…

Living coelacanths had gone undiscovered for so long for several reasons. Mostly, the fossil record including these early fish species is from a time when the continents as we now know them were partially covered with water. Since the current continental configuration has largely existed for many millions of years – give or take some shifting – there have been no more recent coelacanth fossils to be found on land. Also, coelacanths live at great depth – around 2,300 feet deep is their comfort zone – so they would never have been accidentally spotted by divers. They are precursors to the fish that learned to climb up onto land, with pairs of bony fins oriented like legs – different from modern fish. Their heavily armored scales make them difficult prey for other fish.

The sea is full of mysteries. Perhaps the most recent — and the eeriest — is this: a weird “bloop” noise was heard for hundreds of miles over microphones recording oceanic sounds. For years people thought – because the nature of the sound seemed organic – that it might be some enormous, as yet unknown creature. Careful scientific investigation later revealed the noise to be caused by the Antarctic ice shelf cracking, as the times of the noise coincided precisely with observed cracking events.

The world’s ocean is less known to us than the surface of the moon – and is just as inhospitable to humans. Slowly,. we are mapping the deep oceans using deep-sea submersibles, and nearly every dive discovers a new creature – some existing near thermal vents that constantly spew boiling water and toxic gasses, and yet these creatures seem to thrive in that environment. There is so much the deep sea could teach us; hopefully, the human race will have the wisdom to preserve and explore our oceans so that future generations can benefit from the knowledge we gather there.

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