Aliens of the Sea: Creatures from the Deep 

By Laura McAndrews & Sarah Schlicher

In the ocean, for every ten meters you travel down the pressure increases by one atmosphere. When humans experience high pressure, their lungs begin to compress and the body changes how blood is distributed in the body. We can only survive as long as the pressure inside our bodies is enough to balance the pressure outside. However, there are a number of creatures that have adapted specifically to live in high pressure, and the resulting physical appearances can be strange.

In 2013 the Blobfish, Psychrolutes marcidus, was voted the World’s Ugliest Animal. Normally experiencing pressures many times that of sea level, when brought to the surface its low density flesh becomes deformed, and the result is its sad, gelatinous face. The Blobfish typically lives off the coast of Australia and Tasmania at depths of 600 to 1200 meters, where it floats above the sea floor. It is able to do so due to its primarily gelatinous flesh, which lacks muscle and allows the fish to withstand high pressures and move more efficiently over the bottom of the sea. Though the Blobfish has never been observed feeding, since it floats across the sea floor and lacks the muscle to chase prey, it is thought to eat matter that can float into its mouth, including crustaceans, sea urchins, and mollusks. Unfortunately, however, despite being inedible, the Blobfish is often caught accidentally by deep-sea trawlers, and is quickly becoming endangered.

Another creature notorious for its strange appearance is the Goblin Shark, Mitsukurina owstoni. Pinkish-grey with a flabby body and soft skin, it also inhabits the deep sea with a depth range of 40 to 1,200 meters. Just like the Blob Fish, the Goblin Shark has a density close to seawater, and waits to ambushes its prey rather than actively pursuing. Unlike the Blobfish, however, it feeds midwater rather than at the bottom of the sea. The flabby and elongated snout is thought to be used to detect prey, and its protrusible jaw, for which it is well known, is used to suck in its catch. For a while scientists actually believed there were a number of different species of Goblin Shark, since in preserved specimens the jaw would stiffen into place, and most had been preserved with jaws protruded to differing points, changing the appearance of the entire head. This was likely due in part to the relatively small amount known about the species, since they are rarely seen or caught, and also therefore used for little. However, scientists believe that the Goblin Shark could be more common than originally thought, since they seem to be widely distributed, with specimens caught near Japan, New Zealand, southern Africa, and other locations around the world.

Last but not least is the Vampire Squid, Vampyroteuthis infernalis. This creature is known to have the largest eyes to body ratio of any animal. Like the Blobfish, the vampire squid has a gelatinous body that is capable of drawing its eight, web-connected arms up and over itself to form a protective web. Protruding off of the eight legs are fleshy spins called cirri, adding to its strange appearance.  One of the many eerie characteristics of this creature is its ability to bioluminescence through its light-producing organs called photophores. The Vampire Squid has the ability to “turn on or off” the light and change intensity to create patterns to confuse predators and prey.  Unlike the Blobfish and the Goblin Shark, the Vampire Squid travels fast, up to two times its 6 inch body length per second. Although not much is known about its feeding habits, it is believed to have a diet of prawns, copepods, cnidarians, and other small invertebrates. The vampire squid’s ivory beak-like jaw, located within the webbing, has been found in the stomach of seals, whales, and large fishes. This squid is found throughout the worlds’ oceans, but mostly tropic and temperate areas at depths of 90 to 900 meters. Scientists believe that the Vampire Squid prefer to be in temperatures of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius.

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