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Oil Spill Prompts Increased Attention On Mysterious Deep Sea Habitats

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By: Lauren Alleman

The Deepwater Horizon incident occurred in the deep sea off the coast of Louisiana, in water greater than 1,000 meters deep.  In addition to affecting coastal ecosystems, the spill impacted deepwater benthic habitats in the Gulf of Mexico as well.

The deep sea is defined as the zone in the ocean greater than 200 meters deep.   Unbelievably, despite complete darkness, crushing pressures, and freezing temperatures, the deep sea is teeming with life.  And most of it looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss story.

Take the barrel eye fish, with a head that looks like a bowl of translucent jelly.

Photograph courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Or the newly discovered Hasselhoff crab, named in honor of our favorite Baywatch star, for its hairy chest.

And how about the several meter-long whip corals that grow on underwater mountains?

CREDIT: Aquapix and Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007

The deep sea comprises over 60% of the Earth’s surface; however, it is the least understood environment on the planet.  In light of the recent impacts to this habitat in the Gulf of Mexico, the adage “out of sight, out of mind” no longer applies.

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