Dispatch from Denizens of the Deep

By Theresa Wiliams

Slackjaw Sally here with an update at Pito Deep.  Last night Freddy the flying fish zoomed by with some news from the bottom.  They haven’t seen this much excitement down there for about a dozen years!  With Sentry swimming around mapping and Jason pulling off pieces of the ocean floor with his strong robot arms, it’s a tremendous amount of activity for my quiet bottom-dwelling friends.

Like geologists on a family vacation, we have hundreds of rock photographs for each single picture of a living thing.  Here’s a sample of life on the bottom for my land-lubber followers.  Remember that creatures living in the abyss must be adapted to a temperature just above freezing, low oxygen in the water, high salt concentrations, and the weight of miles of water pressing down.

Photo courtesy of M. Cheadle, Univ. of Wyoming/NSF/ROV Jason 2017 © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Photo courtesy of M. Cheadle, Univ. of Wyoming/NSF/ROV Jason 2017 © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

We’ve seen more Venus flower basket glass sponges than anything (they really are no good at running away).  They are made mostly of silica and look like fragile glass vases attached to the seafloor by tiny silica spicules about as big around as a human hair.  They eat detritus, the small bits of dead creatures and waste that fall from above.  They’re attached to the rocks at many of our collection sites.

Brittle stars are creatures with disc-like bodies and five (sometimes six) gangly arms.  If a predator grabs it by an arm, the arm breaks off to help it get away.  It will grow a new arm.  They live on the seafloor eating detritus, worms, small crustaceans and anything else they can get their arms on.  They can move by wiggling their arms like a snake or by using two pairs in a rowing motion.  Many species are bioluminescent green or blue – probably for avoiding predators.

We’ve seen a lollipop looking creature that is too shy to tell us its name.  Maybe it’s a sponge on a stalk or it might be some type of siphonophore like an ocean dandelion.  Siphonophores are communities of many tiny zooids each with a specialized function.  Together they share one stomach that provides nutrients to all.

A few curious shrimps checked out Jason while on the bottom and we saw fish, crabs, anemones and an abyssal squid or two down there as well as a mysterious octopod.  Check out the collage.

Catch you later!

Sally