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Deep-Sea Creatures: Gazing Into the Abyss

Matthew's interests include writing, gaming, movies, and pretending to be Irish despite only having one Irish Great Grandparent.

The depths of the ocean are as alien to us as outer space, and they contain creatures reminiscent of anything you'd see in a science fiction horror film.

It's a world with little light, and pressure so extreme that a human being would be crushed within seconds.

So the denizens of this plane have evolved to thrive in a dark and dangerous environment. To human eyes, these creatures may appear strange and even nightmarish, but only because we are accustomed to living in a world of sunlight.

Here are some of the fascinating life forms that are found in the deepest depths of the ocean:

Viperfish

The head of a Pacific viperfish.

The head of a Pacific viperfish.

Named for its snake-like shape, the viperfish has fangs that are too big for its mouth. These fangs curve upwards toward its eyes, making for a particularly vicious appearance.

This deep-sea fish has evolved solely for the purpose of catching food in the dark. It has an organ that emits light, which inhabitants of this shadowy environment naturally gravitate toward. As soon as the unsuspecting prey comes within range, the viperfish springs towards it like a torpedo and impales the hapless creature on its fangs.

They dwell so deep in the ocean that they are mostly unaffected by human behaviour, and scientists aren't even certain how they reproduce.

Japanese Spider Crab

A Japanese spider crab at the Kaiyukan aquarium in Osaka, Japan.

A Japanese spider crab at the Kaiyukan aquarium in Osaka, Japan.

Have you heard zoologists use the term "deep-sea gigantism"? It refers to the apparent tendency of deep-sea creatures to grow to a much larger size than their shallow-water counterparts.

Enter the Japanese spider crab, the world's largest crustacean (measuring around 3.5 meters from the tip of one front claw to the other). They roam the ocean floor, feeding on dead organic matter, tiny fish, and smaller invertebrates.

Unfortunately for the Japanese spider crab, its rarity makes it a delicacy in Japan, although it lives at such depths that it usually escapes the nets of commercial fishermen.

Goblin Shark

The head of a goblin shark, from the Museum of Victoria in Australia.

The head of a goblin shark, from the Museum of Victoria in Australia.

Sharks, in general, don't look particularly friendly, but the goblin shark's fearsome expression makes the great white shark seem positively overjoyed to meet new people.

It rarely emerges from the deep, granting it an aura of mystery to go with its terrifying appearance. It was first discovered by fishermen operating off the coast of Japan, who named it after the Tengu — trickster spirits found in Japanese folklore.

It is believed to be a survivor of the prehistoric age, and may even have inhabited the same waters as the megalodon - the gargantuan great white shark of the Cenozoic Era (66 to 0 million years ago).

Vampire Squid

The vampire squid thrives in a world without sunlight.

The vampire squid thrives in a world without sunlight.

No creature on earth has eyes as large (relative to its body size) as the vampire squid. Its body is covered in organs that emit light, allowing it to produce what amounts to an underwater neon light show.

This display disorientates predators, and would probably be effective against prey as well if the vampire squid was a hunter itself. But it seems content to feed on dead organic matter that drifts down from above.

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Most species of squid defend themselves against predators by spraying an ink-like substance, but since colour is irrelevant down here, the vampire squid utilizes a glowing mucus instead.

Ancient Angler Fish

Gone fishing.

Gone fishing.

Off the coast of California lies an underwater canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here, in 2014, a particularly rare species of anglerfish was filmed for the first time.

The monstrous-looking fish is named for the glowing organ that dangles in front of its mouth like a fishing pole. Only female anglerfish possess this feature, which they use to lure unsuspecting prey into an ambush. Their large mouths and flexible bodies enable them to swallow creatures up to twice their own size.

Female anglerfish grow to about ten times the size of the male. Reproduction is a rather sordid affair, as the male anglerfish attaches itself to the larger female and basically fuses with its body. Its eyes, fins, and other organs wither away until it's just a lump of flesh that leeches off the female while simultaneously providing her with sperm.

Crossota Jellyfish

This psychedelic jellyfish was discovered thanks to a MBARI remotely controlled vehicle operating at a depth of 3,700 meters.

This psychedelic jellyfish was discovered thanks to a MBARI remotely controlled vehicle operating at a depth of 3,700 meters.

These luminous beings have been observed hovering above the ocean floor like alien spacecraft; their venomous tentacles stretching out around them like a web.

Their red, hemispherical bodies resemble a police siren, and probably serve to scare off predators.

Sea Pig

These sea pigs (officially known as Scotoplanes) roam the ocean floor grazing on sand.

These sea pigs (officially known as Scotoplanes) roam the ocean floor grazing on sand.

They are officially called "Scotoplanes", but are commonly referred to as sea pigs because of their plump, pink bodies; although "sea cucumber" would probably be a more apt name.

They roam the ocean floor “grazing” on the sand, from which their bodies are able to extract nutrients.

As with many other creatures of the deep, researchers don't know enough about them to say how they reproduce. What's clear is that they do so in great numbers, since they usually form "herds" numbering between 300 and 600.

Barreleye Fish

The barreleye fish is translucent, with eyes positioned INSIDE its head.

The barreleye fish is translucent, with eyes positioned INSIDE its head.

At depths of around 2,000 to 2,600 meters, we have a creature with eyes inside its forehead, peering out through its own translucent body.

Researchers originally thought that the barreleye fish (named for the tubular eye sockets) could only see upwards but from what few encounters they've had, they've confirmed that the fish actually rotates its eyes.

It floats motionless in the abyss with its eyes pointed upward as it waits for prey to pass above, then directs its eyes to a forward-facing position as it sets off in pursuit.

Giant Squid

A giant squid washed ashore in Norway in 1954. It measured 9.2 meters in length.

A giant squid washed ashore in Norway in 1954. It measured 9.2 meters in length.

While the vampire squid has the largest eyes relative to its body size, the giant squid has the largest eyes, period. This is in addition to being the largest known invertebrate on Earth.

A giant squid has a life expectancy of about five years but grows extremely quickly during that time period. It is rarely spotted underwater, but specimens have washed up on beaches or been tangled up in trawling nets.

Footage of a giant squid in its natural habitat was aired for the very first time in 2013. Footage recorded in 2019 revealed even more about the mysterious species, as scientists used a robot jellyfish to draw the attention of a squid measuring at 1.7 meters (excluding tentacles).

The giant squid stalked the fake jellyfish for about six minutes before striking, indicating that they actively hunt their prey rather than lying in wait.

The existence of giant squid as long as 13 meters have been recorded, but legends tell of much larger varieties. In 1965, a Soviet whaler reported witnessing a battle between a colossal squid and a 40-ton sperm whale. The struggle supposedly ended with the squid strangling its opponent to death while having its own head bitten off.

A report from the 1930s claimed that a giant squid mistook a Norwegian ship for a whale and attacked it. The squid attempted to grab onto the vessel but ended up slipping off the steel surface into the propellers.

Sperm whales supposedly eat giant squid, but is there a squid large enough to eat a sperm whale?

Sperm whales supposedly eat giant squid, but is there a squid large enough to eat a sperm whale?

Of course, without any proof, the gargantuan squid remains an object of fantasy. But so little is known about the dark depths of the ocean, and researchers are discovering new species all the time. Who knows what they will find next?

References

Marissa Fessenden. 2014, 24 November. The Black Sea Devil, a Rare Deep-Sea Anglerfish, Filmed for the First Time (Smithsonian Magazine). Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/rare-deep-sea-anglerfish-called-black-seadevil-has-been-filmed-first-time-180953454/

Michelle Starr. 2021, 12 May. First-of-Its-Kind Video Shows Giant Squid Hunt Their Prey Deep in The Ocean (Science Alert). Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/first-of-its-kind-video-shows-how-deep-sea-giant-squid-hunt-their-prey


Comments

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on August 02, 2014:

As you say, creatures from the deepest parts of the ocean are as weird in appearance as anything a sci-fi scriptwriter could come up with. Indeed the Viperfish looks like it could well have been the inspiration for 'Alien', if they had been aware of it.

I'm not sure I'm totally convinced of the story of a giant squid managing to kill a full grown sperm whale, though I have heard stories of fights between the two species before, and certainly if one of these great whales tackled a giant squid, it would be the most colossal struggle which can occur on this planet between two species today.

No doubt even more exotic species still await discovery or scientific description, but thanks for the dramatic images of these strange creatures which few will have the opportunity to see in life.

Matthew Flax (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on June 22, 2014:

Thanks! Wouldn't mind adding video clips, if I can find any that are public domain.

Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on June 21, 2014:

Hi,

I enjoyed reading your hub. Have you thought of adding video clips from YouTube to make it come alive with your great descriptions it will be an asset to your hub.

Good Luck and it is nice to have someone else who loves the sea.

Bobbi Purvis from Florida

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