By: Grace Helmke
The ocean is a great mystery. It is the alien world that exists on earth. It houses life so captivating we can’t help but stare at its beauty in awe and fear. Although this great expanse of saltwater accounts for most of our earth, we don’t know a lot about it. The deepest depths of the ocean, where unusual and interesting life resides, remains largely unexplored. However, the few that have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of oceanic discovery, have explored some of the most interesting places on our earth, and have discovered some of the most frightening and enlightening things.
What is ocean exploration?
Ocean exploration is a process that focuses on discovery. It is the observation and recordation of new species or geological features within these bodies of water. It is not random wandering in hopes of finding the kraken. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, ocean exploration “Is disciplined and organized and includes rigorous observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physiological, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean.”
Most of the ocean and its species residing on the continental shelf (the area in the ocean that is shallow, but still submerged), have been discovered, so most of the ocean exploration that goes on today revolves around the deep ocean.
Current Exploration Missions
The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) currently have a few missions in place.
The first is the E/V Nautilus field season. Professionals will pilot the Nautilus (an exploration vessel) to explore the coast of North America – starting at the west coast of British Columbia, and moving to California.
Another mission in place is the “Bioprospecting for Industrial Enzymes and Drug Compounds in an Ancient Submarine Forest.” Scientists working for the NOAA are hoping to discover new compounds, found within this forest, that will be used for medicine and biotechnology.
Of course, there are many more missions going on around the world, but these are the most significant projects that are funded by the United States.
What are some of the most interesting things that have been discovered in the ocean?
Bioluminescence is the production of light by an organism. There are examples of this throughout all depths of the ocean, but the most common place that bioluminescent organisms reside, is the deep sea. Because the depth, where so many organisms live is completely pitch black, it has been discovered that light is a form of communication between deep sea dwelling organisms.
According to ‘Smithsonian,’ bioluminescence may be the most common form of communication on the planet because of the fact that there is such an abundance of life in the deepest regions of the world.
2. Deep sea gigantism
Organisms in the deep sea have an inexplicable tendency to grow WAY larger than their family members on the continental shelf, or in the more shallow areas. Of course, there are some animals that reside in the deeps that are of regular size, but there is a large portion that has evolved to become incredible monsters of the deep.
The Oarfish is a great example of this. Their relatives, the ribbon fish, reside in shallow areas, and can reach about 18 inches. However, Oarfish reside in the deep depths of the ocean, and can reach over 50 feet.
Another example of deep sea gigantism is the giant squid, the largest invertebrate on earth. They can reach over 33 ft, and weigh over 440 pounds. This is comparable to squid of the shallows that only grow to about 2 ft.
3. The Mariana Trench
An underwater trench containing a pit, that has now been declared the deepest part of the ocean, and subsequently the lowest point on earth, has been discovered in the Pacific Ocean east of the Mariana Islands.
The trench itself is crescent shaped and stretches 1,584 miles on the ocean floor. The pit has been named Challenger deep, and sinks to a depth of 35,800 ft below the surface.
4. The Immortal Jellyfish
Only one organism has ever been discovered to have the ability to live forever. That is the Turritopsis Dohrnii, a jellyfish originating in the Carribean and Mediteranian seas. When threatened, they are able to revert back to their juvenile form and start the process of growth all over again.
Essentially, they age in reverse.
Because this is the first of its kind on earth, scientists have speculated that they hold secrets that may provide incredible insight in the medical field. Some even believe we may learn the secret to immortality, however, that speculation is not backed up by any scientific evidence, so it’s likely untrue.
Our planet is home to some amazing creatures and features, most of which reside in the most foreign place on earth: the oceans. Countless individuals have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of discovery within these bodies of water. It is their mission to understand the mystery that is our oceans, and discover what has yet to be unearthed.
For more on deep sea exploration and some of its wonders, please visit:
- Giant squid: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/g/giant-squid/
- Oarfish: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131022-giant-oarfish-facts-sea-serpents/#:~:text=Giant%20oarfish%20are%20the%20longest,600%20pounds%20(270%20kilograms).
- Immortal jelly: https://thebiologist.rsb.org.uk/biologist/158-biologist/features/1510-everlasting-life-the-immortal-jellyfish#:~:text=Where%20do%20’immortal’%20jellyfish%20live,and%20the%20Mediterranean%20(dohrnii).