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October 1, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Science: What’s It Up To?

What do we know about the deep ocean? Fuck all really. Some people say we know more about space then we do about the ocean. It is unimaginably cold and cloaked in near-total darkness. Yet the blackness is alive, swarming with untold armies of fantastical creatures. Some real weird shit goes on down there.

THE GULPER EEL

Known scientifically as Eurypharynx pelecanoides, perhaps one of the most bizarre looking creatures in the deep ocean. Its most notable attribute is the large mouth. The eel’s mouth is loosely hinged, and can be opened wide enough to swallow an animal much larger than itself. The hapless fish is then deposited into a pouch-like lower jaw, which resembles that of a pelican. The gulper’s stomach can also stretch to accommodate its large meals. The eel also has a very long, whip-like tail that goes to a fine point. Specimens that have been brought to the surface in fishing nets are up to 2m long and have been known to have their long tails tied into several knots.

THE DEEP SEA ANGLER

Melanocetus johnsoni, a grotesque-looking fish that lives in the extreme depths of the ocean. Its round body resembles a basketball, and indeed, it looks like it could easily swallow one. It has a large mouth likes with sharp, fang- like teeth. Despite its ferocious appearance, the angler only reaches a maximum length of about five inches. The angler gets its name from the long, modified dorsal spine which is tipped with a light producing organ known as a photophore. Like many other deep-water fish, the angler uses this organ like a lure to attract its prey. It will flash its light on and off while waving it back and forth like a fishing pole. When the prey fish gets close enough, the angler snaps it up with its powerful jaws.

It’s lonely at depth, individuals are presumably locally rare and encounters doubly so, finding a mate is problematic. When scientists first started capturing anglerfish, they noticed that all of the specimens were female. These individuals were a few centimetres in size and almost all of them had what appeared to be parasites attached to them. It turned out that these “parasites” were highly reduced males. When a male finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then slowly atrophies, first losing his digestive organs, then his brain, heart, and eyes, and ends as nothing more than a pair of gonads, which release sperm in response to hormones in the female’s bloodstream indicating egg release. Sound familiar? Bros before hos.

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