Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dark Roasted M.Christian

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about some of the strange - and beautiful - creatures living in the VERY deep sea.

Here's a fun fact for you: did you know that you, an unprotected human being, can last for about two whole minutes in a vacuum -- say on the surface of the moon? Here's another amusing bit of knowledge: did you also know that you, still just an unprotected homo sapiens, would last only the barest smidgen of a second before being totally, completely pulped by the crushing pressures at the bottom of the sea?

Still with the facts and, hopefully, still fun: there is more light on the dark side of the moon than there is down, down, down in those ocean depths.

But what's especially chilling is that these facts -- amusing or otherwise -- are some of the few of things we know for certain about the deep sea: it's commonly said we know more about the surface of the moon than we know about what happens right here on our own planet, in that murky world at the bottom of the sea.

One thing we do know, though, beyond that despite the crushing pressure (at least 16,000 pounds per square inch) and the absolute, total, complete darkness, there is life.

Even at the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, and the deepest part of the Trench, the Challenger Deep, there are living things. Auguste Piccard, who made an adventurous trip in 1960 to the bottom of the Deep in his bathyscaphe, the Trieste, saw a few extreme creatures that managed to made that extreme environment their home.

While not as deep – but just as dark – as the Deep, scientists have found, and continue to find, an amazing, and sometimes nightmarish, world of creatures in the abyssal plains, which make up more than a staggering 50% of the earth's surface.

Light is so rare down there that its uniqueness is an allure, for mating, as well as a lure, for eating. Grammatostomias flagellibarba, a dragon fish to you and I, uses bioluminescence – biological light– mainly for the latter: any deep, deep, deep swimmers that notices, and becomes interested in, a certain tiny flickering light will end up becoming caught by the dragon fish's monstrously huge, and needle-sharp toothed, mouth. The light being a glowing lure at the end of a long, thin filament connected to the underside of the fish's jaw.

The sea angler uses a similar trick, though it's more globular instead of having the dragon fish's lean and nasty body. The angler's lure is the same in function, but different in location: its flashing trick is a kind of deadly finger between its eyes and it's similarly sharp-toothed mouth rather than being at the end of a thin strand like the dragon fish.

While neither of these fish – and there are far too many to name here – are monsters in size, there something called abyssal gigantism, the tendency for other forms of extremely deep-dwelling organisms to not only be odd, strange, bizarre and darned creepy but also oddly, strangely, bizarrely and – yes, you guessed it – creepily huge.

Do you have a small dog, a cat, or a larger-than-average tortoise? How would you like to have a pet the size of any of them but isn't just from a different species but from a whole different phylum?

Cute? Not really. Cuddly? Absolutely not. But the giant isopod would certainly be a conversation starter if you took it out for a walk: imagine a pill bug weighing over four pounds.

Other abyssal giants include the poster child for arachnophobia, the Japanese spider crab, which averages 12 feet from leg to creepy leg; and then there's the giant ... well, we'll get to him in a minute.

While not a heavyweight, one of the most oddly lovely creatures living in the dark depths is the very-correctly named vampire squid. Blood red, with soft hooks instead of a squid's regular suckers, it has the neat trick of flipping it's legs over its soft body turning itself into a spiny ball. The vamp has its own bioluminescent trick as well: glowing when it wants to be seen but turning its lights off when it wants to vanish into the darkness.

The so-called Piglet variety of squid is, for want of a better word, actually cute: looking for all the world like the strange mating of a cartoon character, a bunny rabbit, and a kitten, this deep water oddity is almost a complete mystery – though scientists, not reputable ones, have speculated that the piglet's defense mechanism is to make adversaries go "Awwwwww..." and leave them alone.

The granrojo is almost the vamp and the piglet's relation, despite the fact that it's a jellyfish and not a squid. While neither hooked or spiked -- or cute -- this deep-water creature is just as odd, with chubby arms and an almost plastic looking crimson bell.

Yet another contender for the oddly pretty prize is the so-called barreleye. This fish takes vision to a new level of spooky strange. Sure, it has eyes, but instead of having to deal with an oh-so-annoying skull that gets in the way of what it's trying to see, the barreleye's head is transparent: to look up it just moves its eyes to focus through its clear – and a bit disturbing – cranium.

We could go on, and there are certainly more than enough odd and strange and weird and beautiful and disturbing creatures out there, but it has to be mentioned that while we know about some, there are still possibly thousands of even odder, stranger, weirder, more beautiful and disturbing creatures in the deep seas.

Remember the promise about getting back to one particular example of abyssal gigantism? Well, there is one creature that is a mix of the known and the unknown, almost a poster-child for the wonder, and horror, of the dark oceans. For a long time it was thought it was just a myth, a story shared by sailors who'd been out at sea too long. But then there was evidence: the disturbing marks on the sides of Sperm Whales, the kings of the sea -- evidence of nightmarish battles between one and the other miles below the surface.

These giants are out there, possibly the largest species currently on the planet: eyes the size of dinner plates, 30 foot tentacles dotted with razor-toothed suckers, and a massively strong beak. Architeuthis, the giant squid to you and I, was recently filmed, for the first time, but there is still much – too much – we don't know about it.

So take a moment and look up at the full moon, wonder about the mysteries that may be up there, but then go to the shore, look out at the sea, and think that we may very well know more about a hunk of rock 250,000 miles away than we know about a world full of life just a few miles away, and many, lightless, miles straight down.

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