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The Final Frontier on Earth

Ammonite

Pen and Ink Illustration of an Ammonite, A Prehistoric Deep Sea Creature

In many ways the deep sea is the last great unexplored frontier on Earth. Far beneath the sun's reach, down in the darkest depths, there is a bounty of mysterious creatures and nightmarish landscapes just now being discovered. In the last 10 years alone, and thanks to the adventurous researchers of the Census of Marine Life, thousands of previously unknown species have been pulled from the depths. Here are eight of the most bizarre discoveries.

An Endless Bounty of Undiscovered Life

The biodiversity of the deep sea is equaled only by that of tropical rain forests, and the destruction of rain forests has long been known to affect biodiversity and the global climate. Similarly the deep sea is home to countless species, including the oldest known living animal and to life-forms found nowhere else. Ninety percent of the ocean is below 200 meters, but not much is known about life in the deep sea; expensive research sampling has been done in about 1 percent of this vast area. Bottom trawls are not selective; in the Northeast Atlantic alone they catch untold amounts of more than 100 species of fish. Deep-sea bottom communities harbor species that can be large, but are delicate and fragile, such as corals and sponges. Deep-sea corals are not what
Abyssworm
we are used to seeing in tropical waters, and with a few exceptions they do not build massive reef structures. Instead, many are more akin to trees, sometimes more than three meters high, and sometimes very old, often reaching more than 4,000 years. The deep sea is characterized by its long-term stability. Animals living there may not experience any change in conditions over the whole of their lives. As a result, even those species living on or in the muddy bottom do not have massive and rapid reproduction as part of their life strategy. That is, there are few “weedy” species in the deep sea.

Living Creatures Thought to be Extinct in the Ocean’s Depths

Countless accounts of creatures thought to be extinct are discovered at the oceans depths. The Coelacanth was believed to have become extinct 65 million years ago. It was not until a South African museum curator discovered a specimen while seeing fish from a deep sea trawler that it was proven to exists. There are two known species: one that lives off the coast of the eastern coast of Africa and one that lives off the coast of Indonesia. The fact that we know about them at all is kind of amazing. They are not easy to find. They can live up to 2,300 feet below the water’s surface. They are, however, pretty huge. Like, as big as a person. They can grow up to six and a half feet and weigh almost 200 pounds. Some scientists think coelacanths represent an evolutionary step between sea and land animals. Several other accounts of prehistoric life have been discovered at the oceans deep trenches, so it is possible that they may still exist.

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