Of the Deep

In Search of the
Sea's "Monsters" and
The World They Live In

Erich Hoyt
The deepest waters of earth lie at some 36,000 feet --- that's almost seven miles --- below the marine surface. It's called the "hadal" zone, from "Hades," the god of the netherworld. The pressure there is some 16,200 psi's --- which means eight tons pressing on every square inch of your body if you choose to go there (and if you choose to go there, because of the pressure, you'll end up looking like a Kewpie doll).

Besides turning into a midget, there are other reasons not to go there as well. One is that the fish that hang out there are pretty disgusting, and the sea cucumber, which eats coral sand, is even worse and I'm not going to tell you which part of its anatomy it breathes with, although it ain't the nose (it has no nose). They are very wrinkly, too. One time I went to a Korean restaurant in Seattle located in an old gas station and they served me boiled sea cucumber and, I swear, it tasted just like old gas and refried sand.

Things don't get much better in the Bathypelagic (deep water) or Abyssopelagic (deeper water) zones either. There may be some colorful scyphozoan jellyfish --- not schizophrenic but scyphozoan --- that look just like one of those upside-down cranberry ice-cream cones that you get at the fairgrounds, except with creepy things hanging down all around (antennæ) that makes them look rather schizophrenic.

Some of these guys get to be a couple of feet long, which is far better than the Lion's Mane Jellyfish which sports tentacles out to 120 feet and if you get tangled in those you'd be far better off betting your life on the Fantome in the middle of Hurricane Mitch.

Even worse is the viperfish which looks every bit like your nightmare of a deep-water monster: huge black googly staring eyes, teeth big enough to eat you with, my dear, and sort of a sickly pale orange-ish flesh-colored scale-free skin. Viperfish also blink red lights at each other like so many miniature police-cars so they can circle around you as they prepare to munch down on you. Their favorite prey is something called the hatchet fish that has a worried-mind look probably because of all his toothy neighbors wanting to make deep-sea pizza pie out of him (complete with driftwood and anchovies).

The absolute prize of the disgusting uglies will probably go to the Deep-Sea Anglerfish. It only grows up to a foot long, but god it's twelve inches of pure horror with little piggy-mean eyes, a huge lipless toothy mouth, an ugly "fishing pole" atop the mouth to lure the unsuspecting, and a wrinkled round reddish body that might be mistaken for an especially ugly Halloween pumpkin if it weren't heading straight for you for lunchtime which at that depth is anytime (since it's a place where the sun don't shine no more).

Creatures of the Deep has some seventy-five luscious photographs, including some that don't necessarily make you want to throw up, like the Marine Spider that looks like a Daddy Longlegs with class, a Portuguese man-of-war that appears like that Japanese dumpling they call the gyoza, and the tomopterid [Fig 2] that looks no more nor less than an ancient Roman sea-going vessel with forty or so oars sticking out the sides.

Hoyt is a chatty and informative writer who is obviously crazy about the sea and its weirdness. He has divided the book into three parts. The first moves us down the five layers of the ocean. Then, we have the food chain --- going from plankton to whales and sharks. The final part has to do with the undersea mountains, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which stretches for 46,000 miles, going as high as 15,000 feet, and would be great for climbing if it weren't several miles underwater.

    The rift itself straddles the most active volcanoes in the world. More than 80 percent of the Earth's volcanic activity occurs here along the midocean ridge ... Every year, underwater volcanoes produce more than five cubic miles of lava --- a volume that would completely submerge an area the size of the United States and Canada under a foot (30 cm) of lava.

--- Rodney J. Peterson

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