Perceptions of the deep sea

How does the media portray the deep-sea, and how does this coincide with what scientists continue to discover about it?

The deep sea makes up more than 99% of the inhabitable volume of the planet. What do people know, think, or feel about it? How can we best study it and communicate our results? With this blog I hope to bring current research on the ocean and deep-sea more into the mainstream.

This region is presented in a variety of ways by the media. A positive example is the stunning book The Deep. This surprise best-seller was a labor of love put together by Claire Nouvian after she became entranced by the deep.

Other examples may be less inspiring (and probably more typical). An article in WIRED magazine a couple years ago attempted to educate people about “What’s down there.” They highlighted factoids mainly about dolphins, turtles, seals, whales, and humans –– charismatic air-breathing vertebrates that make brief forays into the deep, but which can’t truly be considered inhabitants.

The article was accompanied by a fanciful illustration (below, left) that looks nothing like our currently-held view of deep-sea inhabitants (one example, below at right).

If they had done some more research, they might have discovered that the truth about the deep-sea really is stranger than anything they could have dreamed up. It is full of goggle-eyed squids, silicon-based “buckyballs” (radiolarians), forty-meter-long curtains of stinging death (siphonophores), and glowing jellies that propel themselves with eyelash-like paddles (ctenophores). These invertebrate predators dominate deep-sea ecosystems but observing them requires NASA-like efforts and technology.

In a way, by completely missing the boat, the article perfectly illustrated the point: we’ve barely scratched the surface in getting the public and the media to understand the deep ocean’s inhabitants.



* Links to the WIRED article and the Johnsen article