Deep-sea giant isopod, photo by coda (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Life in the deep sea is just as weird and wonderful as any alien creatures from outer space that our imaginations might conjure up, a massive study of marine biology shows. Comprising of some 210 expeditions spanning ten years by over 300 scientists from 34 nations, the international Census of Marine Life is in fact the culmination of ‘hundreds of years of research’. Very little is known about ocean life when compared to the eco-systems on land, especially the deep, where ‘unidentified species are often the norm, not the exception’, according to a November 23rd article in the London Times.

Among the strange newly discovered sea creatures being displayed in newspapers, magazines, on the Internet and television, are animals called ‘sea angels, jewel squid, helmet jellies and a 2m-wide octopod that flies with ear-like fins’ dubbed the ‘Jumbo Dumbo’ due to its size and elephant-like appearance. Figuratively speaking, scientists haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to cataloguing marine life. 17,000 – unarguably an impressive number – is just a proverbial drop in the bucket.

But finding new oceanic species and exploring the depths isn’t just for the pursuit of pure science or to take startling photos of deep-sea oddities. Discovering the ecological roles of sea life such as nutrient and carbon cycling provides important clues about this tremendously large part of our environment, where the bottom trawling fishing and oil industries – not to mention radioactive waste dumping – have had more impact than scientific research missions. Some data can also relate to the hot issue of climate change:

‘Scientists say that study of life within the seabed is vital for determining the viability of schemes to combat climate change by fertilising areas of the ocean to encourage the growth of carbon-consuming microscopic plants.’


–The Times

For more detailed information, read the entire Times article and watch this Channel 4 News report entitled ‘Ocean census reveals amazing new species’, embedded below.

Additional resources:
MSNBC – Thousands of new species found in deep sea
The Times – Lure of the deep is irresistible to science
The Times – Scientists go out of their depth on exploration of Southern Ocean’s abyss
Census of Marine Life image and video galleries