Mysteries of the deep

Page - December 18, 2006
We know more about the moon than we do about the deep sea. Only over the last 30 years have we begun to discover the rich and complex worlds of the deep ocean.

The Blobfish, also known as a Fathead (genus Psychrolutes) trawled during the NORFANZ expedition at a depth between 1013 m and 1340 m, on the Norfolk Ridge, north-west of New Zealand, June 2003.

We have been fascinated by space exploration and potential for life on other planets - but there is underwater life right here that could disappear before we even explore it.

Far from human eyes exists an undiscovered world. Veiled by water and far below the surface, the mysterious dark ocean depths are rich with life.

Biologists estimate that somewhere between 500,000 and 100,000,000 marine species live in the deep sea. Many are yet to be discovered, some dating back to prehistoric times.

But these very species are in serious danger from one of the world's most destructive fishing practices - bottom trawling.

Water over a kilometre in depth covers 62 percent of the surface of the globe - this is truly the last undiscovered wilderness left on the planet.

One study of an area half the size of a tennis court found 898 species, over half of which were unknown to science yet modern industrial fishing practices are systematically destroying these areas.

Some deep sea life:


Orange roughy - A fish that may live over 150 years and doesn't breed until it is 20 to 30 years old - lives around seamounts, and gathers above them to spawn.

Giant squid - Grows up to 12 metres long and weighs in at 300kgs. No one has ever seen one in the wild - just one example of how little we know about the deep.

Giant sea spiders - These are basically bundles of legs that sometimes grow to about 12 inches (30 cm) across.

Mantis shrimp - By weight, some species of mantis shrimp rank among the most formidable animals on Earth. The force of the strike of a large Californian species approaches that of a 22-calibre bullet, and is capable of breaking double layered safety glass.

Whales and sharks - These predators can be found in the deep ocean and around seamounts. Sperm whales dive to hunt squid. The Pacific sleeper shark is the biggest known deep sea fish, up to 7 metres long.