I was up early this morning, trying to adapt to the Eastern-to-Pacific time zone change. It was black outside as I worked to get my mobile devices connected so I could catch up on the Eastern time zone world.
As the pre-dawn darkness turned to a dim and overcast gray, I heard the cry of a seagull. It’s a unique combination of high-pitched squeal and squawk that immediately tells you that you are very near a large body of water — in this case, English Bay, Burrard Inlet, and the Straits of Georgia, the principal bodies of water on which Vancouver sits. That seagull sound is one of those sounds that is so closely identified with a location that, when you hear it, you can almost smell the sharp tang of salt water and the wafting odor of seaweed decaying on shoreline rocks.
For this landlocked Midwesterner, who doesn’t have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of oceanic birds, the sound of a seagull is a welcome, pleasing sound. I sat for a while at the predawn minutes ticked by, listening to the seagull cries and the sound of the water slapping against the dock below and watching the birds wheel over the bay.
When you first had your heart broken, chances are your mother and your grandmother told you to forget about the person who jilted you and added: “There are many fish in the sea.” It turns out that they were more right than they knew — about fish, at least.
Why the incredible undercount of fish? Because most of the world’s biomass of fish falls in the category of mesopelagic fish, which live in the dark depths of the ocean at levels 200 to 1000 meters below the surface. The populations of those fish have been underestimated because the fish have remarkable sensorial capabilities and are incredibly adept at avoiding detection and capture by fishing nets. Their true number was revealed only when acoustic detection devices were used.
Mesopelagic fish are otherworldly looking, with their jutting jaws and special sensory devices, but they play an important role in the oceanic ecosystems. They rise at night to feed, then sink back to the depths to take their craps — a process which transfers carbon from the ocean’s surface to its deepest depths. The decarbonization of the surface helps to keep the oceans healthy.
Curious, isn’t it — after millennia of fishing and sailing the oceans, and hundreds of years of careful scientific study, humans still know so little about the oceans and their inhabitants that we underestimated the fish population by a factor of 30. What else don’t we know about the waters that cover most of the Earth’s surface?
This particular plane, a Dornier Do-17, was shot down over the English Channel. Rather than falling apart on impact with the water, it came to rest, largely intact, on a chalk bed, 50 feet under the Channel’s surface. Divers saw it in 2008, and planning to raise the wreck and rebuild the bomber have been underway since then. The salvage operation is reported to be a success, with most of the aircraft corroded but recognizable. Experts estimate it will take two years to reconstruct the aircraft so that it can be displayed.
Approximately 71 percent of the Earth’s surface lies under the ocean waves. What other prizes — Roman triremes, Phoenicians ships, schooners, warships, barges, ocean liners, flooded cities, and fallen aircraft — lie on the ocean floor, waiting to be discovered and yield their secrets about the past?
It’s hard to believe, but a lot of our world remains unexplored. The oceans which cover most of the Earth’s surface, for example, remain fertile ground for scientific examination.
At various locations in the Earth’s oceans are superdeep trenches that plunge downward for miles. For years scientists believed that the super-dark, super-cold trenches must be devoid of life, because no known life form could stand the immense pressures exerted by the miles of water overhead. Now scientists are learning that they were wrong. The trenches have lots of life — and it is pretty weird.
These supergiant amphipods join other creatures that are known to live in the trenches. They all show that life is hardy, tough, and will usually find a way to survive in even the most inhospitable habitats.
Discoveries like this should make us all curious about the possibilities of finding life on other planets and moons. If amphipods can thrive in absolutely dark, intensely cold environments at pressures that would immediately crush a normal creature like an eggshell, why couldn’t creatures somehow find a way to survive in, say, the hot, heavy atmosphere of Venus or on one of Jupiter’s moons?