Water makes up about 71% of the Earth’s surface. It has often been said that, “we know more about the surface of the moon than we do of the ocean floor”, or that we know more of space in general than we do of our oceans. This is not necessarily true, depending on how you define the parameters of the statement. We actually do have the ocean floor fully mapped to a resolution of five kilometers. But the detail of our knowledge with regards to the ocean floor is less than our nearest celestial neighbors: the moon, mars and venus. Of the ocean, we can make out great, big ridges and deep canyons, but anything smaller than that is largely beyond our understanding. Satellite imagery has been our best method to date, because we generally can’t send humans very deep: the mere pressure of all the water would crush us. However, we are accruing more knowledge of the deep ocean all the time, largely thanks to (usually unmanned) deep-sea submersibles.
And the more we learn, the more you might think… good thing we can’t go down there, because it’s bloody terrifying. But also fantastically interesting. A shrimp that can “punch” with the speed of a gunshot, sunken pirate ships, and the world’s largest ever creature, the blue whale, are just a few of the amazing ocean dwellers that didn’t even make this list. Some of these items are fantastical and legendary creatures, and some of it is stuff we have lost or thrown into the ocean –which we really need to stop doing. And some are… something else. But we’ll get to those in due time.
15. The Ice Finger of Death!
As far as the names given to the species, objects, and phenomena on this list, “The Ice Finger of Death” is number one. And it looks super cool, too. And when first discovered, scientists were taken aback, unsure of what it was. What the Ice Finger of Death actually is, is a brinicle. What? Still not clear? You see, the ocean covers some pretty cold places, like the Arctic and Antarctic. But ocean water doesn’t freeze like tap water in the freezer. The thicker, saltier components –the brine– swirl together and form a cone, like an icicle. Hence, brinicle. Because the brinicle is significantly colder than the rest of the water around it, it can be very dangerous and even deadly to nearby sea life, such as sea urchins and starfish.
14. The Titanic
The RMS Titanic is perhaps the least mysterious item on this list. Conversely, however, it is probably the most famous. And its discovery was very important. It’s difficult to remember now, back before James Cameron’s film, when the Titanic was still a well-known ship and famous true story of how the hubris of man can lead to disaster, but was not fully understood. The “largest ship afloat” at the time of its departure from Southampton on its maiden voyage, the Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912, about 375 miles south of Newfoundland. But just how she sank was unclear. It wasn’t until her discovery in 1985 that we learned that it definitely sank in two pieces. This allowed us to learn more about how big ocean liners sink and also filled in some of the details of the story of the Titanic herself.
13. The Frilled Shark
If you think giraffes, dung beetles and platypuses are weird, wait until you get a look at some of our friends in the deep, dark ocean (Ok, platypuses are still really weird, regardless). The frilled shark is just one of the plethora of bizarre creatures that call the oceans home. Living as far down as 5,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, frilled sharks are what’s known as a “living fossil”. A living fossil is a species of animal that resembles species otherwise known only from the fossil record. Which is to say, all its closest relatives have long been extinct and it alone remains (the frilled shark only has one other extant member of its genus). The frilled shark is about two meters long, looks a bit like an eel, eats like a snake, and has a gestation period that may be as long as three-and-half years, which would make it the longest of any vertebrate. Yeah, it’s odd.
12. The Millennium Falcon???
Ok, hear me out: this object at the bottom of the Baltic Sea probably isn’t the Millennium Falcon, but, I mean, it could be. It looks kind of like it. We can’t say it’s definitely not the Millennium Falcon, because we really don’t have any idea of what it actually is. Formally known as, “The Baltic Sea Anomaly”, it was discovered in June 2011 by the Swedish “Ocean X” diving team. It consists of a circular rock formation that looks like a pearl necklace which rests upon a pillar of some kind and contains what looks like a staircase descending to a dark hole. Suggestions of what it could be include: a World War II anti-submarine device, a gun turret from a battleship, or a flying saucer. Geologists, however, have stated that it is most likely a natural rock formation. Ho hum.
11. Underwater “Crop Circles”
Crop circles are formations, often circular, that are made by depressing parts of a growing crop, usually cereals. Some claim they are caused by extraterrestrials, but most are known to have been caused by humans and the rest are consistent with human causation. But, when diver Yuji Ookata discovered “underwater crop circles”, he was quite puzzled. Like those on land, the underwater variety also has nothing to do with aliens. But, its cause is much more interesting. The Japanese puffer fish is less than five inches long but it can create wonderful and ornate “nests” out of sand that are six-and-a-half feet wide. Why does the puffer fish create this beautiful sandcastle? The same reason males create anything: to attract females. If a female is sufficiently impressed, she will lay her eggs in the nest, then the male will fertilize and look after them until they hatch about six days later. The male then goes off and makes another nest. Scientists are still not sure what the females are looking for in these nests. But then, scientists have always had difficulty ascertaining what females want.
10. Pacific Viperfish
If you were going to arrange a beauty contest for fish in the ocean, you’d be hard pressed to find eligible contestants. However, if you were to hold an, “Ugliest Fish in the Sea” contest, you’d have no shortage of potential winners. And the Pacific Viperfish might just have what it takes to nab that crown. With jagged, needle-like teeth that are so large it can’t even close its mouth, the Pacific Viperfish is not going be in any Maybelline commercials anytime soon. They swim about in depths as low as 13,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. They’re about eight inches long and they have bioluminescent photophores they use to attract prey. They feed mostly on crustaceans and smaller fish. There’s no nice way of putting it; this fish is ugly.
9. The Chicxulub Crater
When geophysicists Antonio Camargo and Glen Penfield discovered the Chicxulub Crater off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in 1978, they weren’t sure what they had found. And it would be a while until they really knew. Not until 1990 when working with Alan Hildebrand, did they finally uncover sufficient evidence to conclude that the Chicxulub Crater was indeed an impact crater. And what caused the impact? A giant asteroid or comet had plunged into the Earth. And when did this happen? Around 66 million years ago; right around the time of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which saw the extinction of 75% of all plant and animal life on Earth. This was the mass extinction that saw off the awesome dinosaurs (save for our feathered friends, the birds, of course). Before the discovery of the Chicxulub Crater, we didn’t know what happened to the dinosaurs. Now we do.
8. Underwater Pyramid
There have been several “underwater pyramids” discovered. They cause a lot of hubbub upon discovery, but most are determined to be natural formations by geologists. They still look cool, though. However, in 2013 Diocleciano Silva was sailing his yacht through the Azores Islands when his GPS discovered something. The object had a perfectly square base, appeared to be about 60 meters tall, and was oriented by the four cardinal directions (north, south, etc). What was it? Well, we don’t know. The Portuguese Navy had been reported to be investigating the object. If they did investigate, they either found nothing or something so amazing they can’t tell anybody yet. Most people claim a hoax, but some say this pyramid is part of a growing body of evidence that Azores were inhabited before the Portuguese arrived; perhaps as much as tens of thousands of years before. And some even say that this underwater pyramid is evidence that we have found (wait for it) the lost city of Atlantis! Or it could just be a big lie, who knows.
7. Vampire Squid
Are there two creepier words you can smush together other than “vampire” and “squid”? In fact it gets worse, this species’ Latin name is “Vampyroteuthis infernalis” which literally translates to “vampire squid of Hell”. But actually, this little guy isn’t so bad. The Vampiric and hellish name come from its webbed arms that it can draw over itself like a Vampire’s cloak, as well as its crimson colored skin. The vampire squid is about 30 centimeters long and lives at around 10,000 feet below the surface. The vampire squid could also be called a “living fossil” as it is the only living member of its order. The vampire squid is specially adapted to living among low levels of oxygen and has the largest eyes proportionate to its body of any creature on Earth.
6. Bimini Road
On September 2, 1968, J. Manson Valentine, Jacques Mayol, and Robert Angove were diving off the northwest coast of North Bimini Island in the Bahamas. It was then and there that they discovered something. A linear series of roughly rectangular limestone rocks leading in a northwest-southeast direction for about a kilometer. This formation would become known as “Bimini Road” or the “Bimini Wall”. In 1978, radiocarbon dating found the rocks to be about 3,500 years old, but this claim is disputed by some. Most of those who dispute that age are proponents of the “man made theory”; which is to say, they think that Bimini Road was intentionally built by humans. Why would humans do this? Everybody has a theory, and again, some involve Atlantis. But by far, the most credible argument is that Bimini Road is a naturally occurring rock formation. Either way, it’s still pretty cool.
5. Undersea Rivers
We all know what a sea is. We all know what a river is. But an undersea river? With rapids? And waterfalls? What??? Ok, calm down, it’s not black magic. But it is in the Black Sea. At least one of them is; the largest one to be directly observed by drones or divers. The Black Sea undersea river is 37 miles long, up 115 feet deep, and 0.6 miles wide. Were it on the surface, it would be the sixth largest river on Earth. But there are more, including one possible undersea river flowing out of the Amazon basin that could be bigger and another one in Mexico, the Cenote Angelita, that even has trees growing around it. Underwater! So how does this work? Well, the river water is much denser than the surrounding water because it has a higher salinity. As such, it sinks down to the lowest point and often carves out rivers on its way to a salty basin on the seabed.
4. The Lost City of Lord Krishna?
There are several sunken cities in the world. There’s one off the coast of Egypt that dates back to the time of Cleopatra, another in China that is truly magnificent (it was only flooded a few decades ago when the Chinese government created a damn), and the infamous city of vice, Port Royal, off the Jamaican coast. But none are as old as the sunken city the Gulf of Khambhat, near the modern city of Dwarka. It was discovered in 2000 by the National Institute of Ocean Archaeology. The remains are known as “the Lost City of Dwarka”, the “Lost City of Lord Krishna” (a famous city in Hindu texts), and formally as “the Gulf of Khambhat Cultural Complex”. Material from the sunken city has been dated back an astonishing 9,000 years. Even if that’s correct, it doesn’t necessarily mean the city is that old. But it could be, which would completely rearrange our understanding about the birth of human civilization, which occurred around 4,500 years ago according to our current understanding.
3. The Coelacanth
Like other species mentioned on this list, the coelacanth is a living fossil. But more than that, it’s perhaps the most famous living fossil. It was discovered in 1938 by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, who thankfully spotted it among the catch of a local angler off the east coast of South Africa. The term “Coelacanth” refers to two extant species in the genus Latimeria. Not only are coelacanths living fossils, but they are also a Lazarus taxon; an evolutionary line that was thought extinct. They were thought to have become extinct around 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. Coelacanths belong to the Sarcopterygii lineage, a line that not only includes lobe-finned fish but all tetrapods. This means the coelacanth is more closely related to lungfish, reptiles, and yes, even mammals than it is to common ray-finned fish (which constitute the vast majority of fish in the sea). This funny looking fish is actually a living example of the point where our ancestors broke off the evolutionary path from other fish. Sadly, the coelacanth is endangered; it has survived for 400 million years but we humans might finally kill it with our carelessness.
2. The Colossal Squid
You might be familiar with the Kraken: a terrifying sea creature from Norse mythology. It is now perhaps more famous as a meme (“Release the Kraken!”) or a bottle of rum. But if a Kraken ever did exist in the oceans, this is it. The colossal squid earns its name. We still don’t know a great deal about the creature as only a few specimens have ever been examined. However, going by what we’ve found, a fully mature adult colossal squid is about 39-46 feet long and weighs as much as 1,650 lbs, making it the largest invertebrate on earth. Colossal squids are very rare finds because they live at depths in the Southern Ocean (the waters around Antarctica) to which humans cannot go. The first full specimen was recovered in 1981 but the next was not caught until 2003. The largest ever was caught in 2007, but it’s unclear whether any of these specimens were fully grown, so they could be even bigger. The colossal squid has the largest eyeball on earth and unlike the giant squid, it has sharp hooks on every limb.
1. Loki’s Castle
Continuing with the Norse theme we have Loki’s Castle: a field of five active hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean between Greenland and Norway. Hydrothermal vents are openings along the ocean floor where water that has been heated up by the interior of the earth jets out into the ocean. The water that issues forth can be as hot as 300 degrees Celsius (570 degrees Fahrenheit). Now, you’d think that nothing could survive in a place so dark and so hot. Think again. Tiny organisms known as thermophiles thrive in these extremely hot environments. And then there are slightly larger organisms that feed on them and those that feed on them and so on and so on. Collectively, these organisms are known as “extremophiles” as they can exist in the harshest environments we can imagine. This bodes well for the search for life beyond our planet, because they prove that wherever we have found liquid water, we have found life. But let’s try to take better care of our oceans before we go looking for another planet to live. There’s just so much cool stuff down there.
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