8 min read

Meet The Deepest, Strangest Sea Creatures You’ve Never Seen

<p><a class="checked-link" href="http://www.thedodo.com">Solvin Zankl, Nature Picture Library</a><br></p>

Some are creepy, some are funny-looking, some are ravishingly beautiful and some are downright scary. These are the Creatures of the Deep, the title of the new edition of a stunning book by Erich Hoyt, a research fellow with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The new edition, which looks like a coffee-table book of underwater photography but reads like a scientific exploration of life beneath the waves, takes readers on a fascinating journey from the surface of the sea to the ocean floor, documenting examples of marine life that most of us would not imagine in our wildest dreams. "My book has lots of photos but it's meant to be read," Hoyt told The Dodo. "Creatures of the Deep is, first, a book about ocean animals and the world they live in. These deep creatures and their world are worthy of our curiosity and depth of interest."

"So much has happened since the first edition in 2001, with the explosion of work in the deep sea, that every page has some new material," said Hoyt, whose books include Orca: The Whale Called Killer. "We have a lot of new science with five species discovered per day, 2000 a year, 20,000 in the first decade of the 21st century." 
The 135-plus photographs and illustrations are all new - at least one-fifth of them never before seen. "A number of species were only discovered on 2010 or 2011 expeditions so are new to science, such as the Yeti crab discovered in the depths of the southern Indian Ocean," Hoyt said. That particular crustacean bears what looks like a fur coat, even though it lives near hydrothermal vents that raise water temperatures up to 867 degrees.

(Yeti Crab: David Shale, Nature Picture Library, from Creatures of the Deep by Erich Hoyt, Firefly Books)

Hoyt culled the images from a variety of sources, including relationships he formed as a whale researcher with scientists from Russia, Canada, the U.S. and other countries. The book reads like the log of a deep-sea dives and is divided into four sections. Part One takes us through the ocean's various layers - sunlight disappears, pressure increases, and sea life gets stranger. "Along the way, we meet some amazing species and see how they live and communicate with each other, how they manage to survive in the black," Hoyt said.

 Part two explores marine life from plankton to the largest marine predators: whales and sharks. Many of them are simply bizarre. "I like to play with our perception of what is or is not a monster," Hoyt said. "Some of the tiny copepods (tiny crustaceans) are pretty ferocious, while a lot of the behavior of the few dangerous sharks and killer whales can be put into perspective. Sharks kill roughly five people a year and people kill on average 38 million sharks per year."

(Photo: Tatiana Ivkovich, Far East Russia Orca Project, from Creatures of the Deep, Firefly Books)

In Part three, we journey along the mid-ocean ridge to hydrothermal vents, where scientists are learning about the formation of the oceans and the origin of life itself. Many new species have been discovered there, including giant tubeworms and other animals that survive far from the sun's glare, thriving instead on heat and chemicals emitted from the Earth's core. Part Four provides a comprehensive history of marine science, beginning in ancient times and leading up to the Census of Marine Life, a decade-long project based on 540 expeditions.

(Infographic: George Walker, from Creatures of the Deep, Firefly Books)

Readers will find many of the images riveting, just as Hoyt did. "Anyone with a bit of curiosity about what's going on below the surface of the sea is absolutely spoiled for choice," he said.

Among his favorite creatures are sperm whales, and beaked whales able to move from the surface of the sea to a mile or two down, all within minutes, instantly adapting to darkness and water pressure that would crush humans. Cuvier's beaked whales dive to record depths of nearly 10,000 feet and remain underwater up to 137 minutes, also a record. 
Then there is the acorn worm, which could be our distant ancestor. This elegant mud-eater, which feeds on seafloor sediment and was only discovered in 2010, has features of both invertebrates and vertebrates.

(Photo: David Shale, as published in Creatures of the Deep, Firefly Books)

"Some evolutionary biologists think it may have given rise to the vertebrates," Hoyt said. The author hopes his book will inspire humans to protect all marine life by, "revealing some of the wonder and telling good stories about the deep." For most people, interest in the ocean stops at the surface, he said. But beneath lies up to 99 percent of all habitat for life on Earth. "The ocean is the frontier for scientific discovery," he said. "We are truly living in the greatest century for ocean discoveries."