Fun

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Deep-Sea Creatures

Sometimes terrifying, sometimes ridiculous, always CUTE.

Illustration by Leanna

Amy Rose: When I was very little, I would introduce myself to strangers as “Ariel,” as in the Little Mermaid, and insist against my mother’s corrections that, no, that was in fact my name. Amy Rose who? Clearly, I’ve always really loved the ocean, a fact which is still truer than true today, even if I don’t actively identify as a mermaid anymore (in public, anyway). As much as I adore the sea, Rachael has one-upped this passion by actually working full-time for an ocean-conservation group. Obviously, we can both agree that marine life is Literally the Best Thing Ever. Here are some fantastic aquatic fauna that illustrate just why we feel this way:

Rachael:

Sharks

Sharks are cool. We all know this. But some sharks are cooler than others. Take the goblin shark:

See that terrifying mouth? It’s DETACHABLE. When this horrifying monstrosity closes in on a tasty fish, it SHOOTS ITS OWN JAW at the animal to catch it. Seriously, it’s the craziest thing you’ll ever see.

Goblin sharks live near the ocean floor, so deep that we rarely get to see them alive. They eat squid, crabs, and fish—basically anything they can catch with their terrifying shooting jaws. Also, their skin is so thin that in the light, they look pink. On another animal, that might be cute. On a goblin shark, it just adds to the terror.

On the other end of the shark spectrum is the tasseled wobbegong. This animal is like, anti-shark. It doesn’t even TRY to be scary. To begin with, it has the most ridiculous name of all the sharks. Just try to say it without laughing. WOBBEGONG.

But the ridiculousness doesn’t end there. The tasseled wobbegong is camouflaged. AS SEAWEED.

Seriously. That picture is of a shark. An adorable, leafy shark. It lives on the ocean floor, where it just kind of hangs out, as seaweed does.

But don’t let appearances fool you. Those ridiculous tassels hide the face of an ASSASSIN. Get too close, and you’re dinner. One specimen recently made the news for eating another shark whole.

Take that, Jaws.

Fish

Firstly, because I know someone is going to say it, yes, sharks are fish. Whatever, we’re writing the article, and we choose the categories. This one is for the OTHER fish.

Like the coelacanth. The coelacanth is an ancient fish, with weird tubelike organs and bone structures that tie back to earlier days in evolution. In fact, for a long time, as far as we knew, coelacanths existed ONLY as fossils. Then we found one alive.

This was a BIG DEAL. This would be like finding a wooly mammoth wandering around the Arctic. Scientists figure coelacanths basically stopped evolving about 400 million years ago. We discovered the coelacanth when someone accidently fished one up, and that’s pretty much the most contact anyone has had with one. They can’t survive the pressure change when we try to remove them from the deep, so we have to study them in the wild, which takes a lot of work. We think they give birth to live young, but we’re not sure. Only one baby has ever been photographed.

If you google it, the fish itself appears to be rather…hideous, but that’s because the only clear pictures we have are of old dead corpses. Apparently when they’re alive, they’re actually a very pretty shade of blue.

Dead coelacanth

Live (fake) coelacanth

What you can’t tell from these pictures is that these fish can be SIX FEET LONG. Also, they live up to 60 years and give birth to live young. They’re basically HUMAN, except underwater and without opposable thumbs. In fact, one theory says that these fish are closely related to the species of fish that grew legs and gave birth on land to life as we know it. THIS THING IS YOUR GREAT-GREAT-AND-SO-ON-GRANDPARENT.

OK, you’re saying, coelacanths are really cool, but mostly for historical reasons. This is the ocean we’re talking about—there’s got to be some fish that’s indescribably weird.

How about the barreleye?

Image from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

That’s not a computer-generated image. That is a photograph. The barreleye fish is one of the WEIRDEST fish in the sea. They compensate for the darkness in the deep by growing gigantic barrel-shaped eyes (the green globes in the picture—the things that look like eyes are actually nostrils). These eyes are set deep in their head. Their TRANSPARENT HEAD.

Apparently these eyes are super-sensitive to light, and the fish spend most of their time staring into the water above them waiting for silhouettes or glowing creatures to swim past. Then they swivel their eyes forward and take chase. It’s speculated that they also steal fish from jellyfish’s stinging tentacles, which they can do without fear because their eyes are safe behind a transparent shield.

Want to see this fish in action? The Monterey Bay Aquarium filmed a video of one in the wild:

Aww, it’s tiny!

Amy Rose:

Cephalopods

Cephalopoda is the class of animals that encompasses all the coolest, strangest, and prettiest creatures of the sea, including octopi, squid, nautili, and cuttlefish (which you basically must refer to as “cuddle fish,” it’s the law). The name of the class originally comes from the Latin for “head-feet,” which aptly describes the weirdo bods that these guys all have—tentacles that are attached to their cute little faces. They also all share a supreme intelligence—they are said to be smarter than every other species of invertebrates. Seriously, watch this video of an octopus making a fortress complete with a BROKEN-GLASS TURRET (come on, that’s amazing), and then maybe go spend a breathless hour on YouTube looking up things like “octopus opening jar” after that:

I should have figured that octopi would be intelligent and dexterous enough to put their many tentacles to good use, but I still found this level of apelike tool utilization kind of astonishing. Squid are also incredibly smart, and this can be awesomely terrifying when a person realizes that, oh, that enormous, mythical-seeming giant creature that can grow to almost 50 feet? It’s also an evil genius. Humboldt squid, which are slightly smaller than the full-blown colossals (they grow up to six feet in length and weigh around 100 pounds, so, like, still quite frightening) are so ruthless and smart that they can “rip flesh into bite-size chunks.”

I guess there’s a good reason why squid are the main enemies in underwater Super Mario levels after all. Side note: In researching this piece, I totally bought this Blooper barrette off Etsy. Don’t make fun of me!

Squid are fascinating for so many reasons besides their scary-cool intelligence and deep-sea gigantism, though (by the way, if you read that article, do NOT click “giant isopod,” seriously, UGH EW EEK). Have you ever heard of chromatophores? They’re incredible—definitely one of the most beautiful natural phenomena out there. Basically, what they are are color-changing cells on the outside of the bodies of most cephalopods that allow them to communicate (excepting the nautilus, which has a mathematically remarkable shell instead of soft flesh), although many scientists believe they have other, as-yet-unknown biological usages as well. They mostly work in flashing waves of color that ripple along the outside of a squidder’s body, like this:

The circular units of chromatophores can also get bigger and smaller in size—it’s similar in appearance to the pupil of an eye reacting to light. Cuttlefish (remember, CUDDLE FISH, or “sea snugs,” if you will AND YOU KNOW I WILL) also have them, and are similar in structure to squid, the only difference being that they have a slight variation in their internal structure. Where squid have a thin internal support called a “quill” or a “pen,” cuttlefish have a stronger, bonier “plate” support. Also, cuttlefish are said to look slightly angrier expression-wise, which I can personally verify, having seen one snorkeling once. I was on a family vacation in the Caribbean and encountered a tiny cuddler guarding a cement block attached to a buoy floating on the surface of the water. Thus begins one of the cutest encounters of my life: I tried to swim up to it to get a closer look, at which point the five-inch-long babyguy started meanly darting at me to protect its turf!! It looked so mad. I mean, it was the best.

Crabs

Although no aquatic creature can match the love I have for cephalopods, I also kind of have to give it up for crabs, especially this one:

This is the yeti crab, also known as the “Hoff crab” because of its Hasselhoffian hirsuteness. When it was discovered in 2005, I became totally obsessed with it—a weird sea bug with the hairy arms and legs of an ’80s sitcom hunk? YES PLEASE! The Hoff crab lives in huge, crazy clusters surrounding hydrothermal vents, which Rachael can explain to you better than I can seeing how that is her REAL and ACTUAL job:

Rachael: Hydrothermal vents are caused by cracks in the ocean floor where lava heats up the surrounding water. The sulfur in these vents attracts weird sulfur-eating bacteria, which in turn attract animals that can eat sulfur-bacteria. Since the yeti crab is such a new discovery, scientists aren’t entirely sure how they fit into this ecosystem, but they have a wild theory: these crabs have been witnessed waving their hairy arms over the warm vents, and it’s speculated that they are actually FARMING BACTERIA in their hair to eat later. Sounds delicious…

All in all, it is a really intriguing species, and you have to love the well-humored scientists who gave it its Baywatchian name.

Rachael: Amy Rose and I could go on all day talking about ocean creatures, but we’ll shut up now. But if you know of any really cool or weird ocean animals, please share! There’s no such thing as too much ocean trivia! ♦

61 Comments

  • kittenmix March 9th, 2012 7:09 PM

    brunhilde, the fish girl!

    http://images.wikia.com/ponyo/images/0/08/Vlcsnap-43705.png

    • KinuKinu March 9th, 2012 7:25 PM

      that movie was soooo cute!! I watched it in Japanese i.e. WAY BETTER THAN AMERICAN VERSION!

  • MissKnowItAll March 9th, 2012 7:12 PM

    Angler fish give me the creeps.
    I went to the Monterey Bay aquarium and I got to pet a sting ray. BEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE!!!!!
    Also box jellyfish are beautiful in an eerie way. At the aquarium in the Bronx, thee is a room covered with glass, so you feel like your walking amongst the jellyfish.

    • unicorn March 10th, 2012 11:16 AM

      Oh my god that sounds like the coolest thing ever!

  • Fortune_Goddess March 9th, 2012 7:19 PM

    ohmigoodness. no. no. nonononono. NO!!! DEEP SEA CREATURES ARE NOT THE BEST THING EVER, SORRY ROOKIE. THEY ARE THE WORST THING EVER! they… they are my worst phobia ever *sniffs* not even kidding, hate them. but my dad likes this article!

  • Yellie March 9th, 2012 7:23 PM

    Oh when we studied Cephalopods in bio, at the end of class we were told we could ask any question and submit into “the box” anonymously. I wrote:
    “WHY ARE CUTTLEFISH SOOOO CUTE!!!????”
    She never answered my question on their cuddly-ness… There are adorable okay, they just scoot around all sweetly…

  • KinuKinu March 9th, 2012 7:23 PM

    Whoa!!

    This is so very cool! And weird and creepy but COOL nonetheless!!

  • potameides March 9th, 2012 7:29 PM

    Yes! I love deep sea creatures. Just a beautiful illustration, too. Thanks Leanna :)

    • Leanna March 10th, 2012 11:35 AM

      No, thank you! I’m glad you like it.

  • Jace March 9th, 2012 7:31 PM

    That pale ass shark video is scarier than odd futures goblin album.

  • Emilie March 9th, 2012 7:40 PM

    Okay it is basically my goal in life to ba a marine biologist specializing in Ocean Conservancy, could Rachael please PLEASE go on the segment “Why can’t I be you?” That would basically be the best thing to happen to me ever.

    • Rachael March 10th, 2012 9:01 AM

      Aw, thanks! I’m not a marine biologist, but I think it would be really cool if we featured one!

      • Emilie March 21st, 2012 1:45 AM

        I know, but I still want you featured!!!

  • TessAnnesley March 9th, 2012 7:57 PM

    fucking goblin sharks AAAAAAAHHH

  • katie March 9th, 2012 8:09 PM

    VAMPIRE SQUID FROM HELL.

  • putonstars March 9th, 2012 8:23 PM

    literally the best Literally the Best Thing Ever article.

  • moonchild March 9th, 2012 9:00 PM

    Oh THANK GOD you didn’t mention barnacles. I have a phobia of them. Not even kidding.

    Gwen
    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

  • Skatapus March 9th, 2012 9:12 PM

    My friend sent me a video of the goblin shark very late one night and it has haunted my nightmares ever since. I actually drew a really similar illustration with loads of fish and things when I heard about this month’s theme. Leanna’s is much better though. :)

  • thunderbolts March 9th, 2012 9:28 PM

    omg they found the baby coelacanth in manado bay on indonesia!
    that’s my country! (just saying)

    and the wobbegong is also wow :0

  • Claudia March 9th, 2012 9:49 PM

    This was interesting! It was nice reading things in a voice that I could understand and relate too. Most articles now a days just ramble on about things during the topic, but you guys got straight and to the point and made learning fun. Thanks :)

  • Stardustmite March 9th, 2012 9:56 PM

    Fish give me the creeps. Like, I literally had to stop halfway through and re-evaluate my life and why I was doing this to myself. And then I kept reading.

  • AnguaMarten March 9th, 2012 10:57 PM

    this is fantastic. deep space and deep sea are the only two branches of science that i will actually devote my own time to, because they are awesome. like, i want to read about gamma ray bursts and coelacanths and the great attractor and creepy sharks. that shit’s cool. but no, sorry, not interested in ionic solutions or litmus testing or whatever.

  • Saraleebread March 9th, 2012 11:02 PM

    I personally am in love with Jelly Fish. The Baltimore Aquarium had a large section full of them. It was so cool.

  • Abby March 9th, 2012 11:27 PM

    Who else clicked on the link just to look at “giant isopod,” thinking, “it can’t be THAT gross….” and then DIED????

    • Amy Rose March 10th, 2012 1:01 AM

      I WARNED YOU ABBY. That thing is straight-up dreadful.

  • Abby March 9th, 2012 11:28 PM

    Also, that shark is probably one of the most terrifying things ever. Literally the most terrifying thing ever. (haha….? No? Did anyone get it…?)

  • Kathryn March 9th, 2012 11:59 PM

    deep sea creatures terrify me!! I love reading about them, but when I imagine being in the water with them I freak out. Whenever I read about giant squids, I look over and imagine one in my house and how big they are and it just really terrifies me…. hahah. Also, I just can’t even handle that scene in Cast Away when the whale comes up right next to him… gives me the creeps.

  • fizzingwhizbees March 10th, 2012 12:31 AM

    I absolutely love cephalopods! Snorkeling with a whole bunch of squid was one of the best experiences of my life.

  • cherrycola27 March 10th, 2012 12:44 AM

    This is awesome! For a long time I wanted to be a marine biologist, then I got to college and realized I’m not good at science! Yes, it took me that long to realize it. But I still have a love for the ocean and all the creatures in it. That’s awesome that you work for a conservation group, Rachel.
    Also, goblin sharks are friggin horrifying!

    • Rachael March 10th, 2012 8:55 AM

      The dream isn’t over! It turned out I sucked at science too, so I majored in creative writing. My job is actually in marketing, which means I get to WRITE about the oceans all day long! If you really want to find a job relating to the oceans, you still can–just get creative!

  • Adrienne March 10th, 2012 1:03 AM

    Ahh love this! Ocean creatures are the best. That goblin shark is crazy. :o And I actually HATE cephalopods. They kind of creep me out! … But I like calamari. :)

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • whisperedglasswords March 10th, 2012 1:22 AM

    I love the sea, especially the deep sea! XD Wonder if it has anything to do with my name……? I love cuddle fish! But I also adore jellyfish (they’re so ethereal and eerie-in-a-beautiful-way) and seahorses (They all look so cute and colorful and strange). Oh, did I mention dolphins? Best ocean mammals *ever*. They are so playful and intelligent! :)

  • leraje March 10th, 2012 3:13 AM

    how dare you leave out immortal jellyfish.

  • youngfridays March 10th, 2012 5:06 AM

    First thing I do: Look up giant isopod

    faithmrljak.blogspot.com

  • Susann March 10th, 2012 3:27 PM

    Literally the best thing ever – goldfish? :)

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • Felicia Ubbesen March 10th, 2012 4:35 PM

    Ohh, sea-creatures! Such an awesome article – even if I have to say that these kind of animals gives me the creeps. Just can’t help to love that octopus. Isn’t it just awesome when different kind of animals show intelligence? Loves it.

  • Sea goddess March 10th, 2012 6:18 PM

    You guys should look up axolotls they are such adorable sea creatures! <3

    • erin March 11th, 2012 5:24 AM

      Oh my goodness so cuteeee! I want one as a little companion!

      • KinuKinu April 18th, 2012 5:40 PM

        WANT ONE EVEN THOUGH I CAN’T SAY ITS NAME

  • saraj00n March 10th, 2012 10:44 PM

    Thought I was all tough and could handle seeing whatever a “giant isopod” was. Reaction: let out an oddly Ray Romano-esque yell and scrolled down as fast as I could to get it awayyyyyyyy

  • ivoire March 11th, 2012 1:24 AM

    Oh my god that Goblin Shark is awfully terrifying.

  • erin March 11th, 2012 5:23 AM

    I just followed a million links and found out the giant isopod thing is related to the rolly polly bug and that they are both crustaceans and that rolly pollies can live up to two to three years! For some reason this is just thrilling to me! And I really really liked the giant isopod. I love creepy little bugs that aren’t little at all, but quite large. They’d be so fun to have as pets! Is that creepy? yes?

  • erin March 11th, 2012 5:26 AM

    reading the comments, I feel like there should really be an ocean animals part II!

  • sttefaaa March 11th, 2012 3:44 PM

    This, actually, is very educative!
    I love sea creatures! They are so very mysterious!

    http://stefanystrange.blogspot.com/

  • Ben March 11th, 2012 6:02 PM

    I read Rookie all the time and connect to thigs and want to comment but for some reason i didn’t so last night i just decided i would comment and so here i am. That goblin shark was awesome but also really creepy. Last night i was thinking about what would happen if we could do that with our jaws *shudder* I’m really happy you wrote this because i love the deep sea! I’m happy you included the barrel eye. I wrote a report on it once and was like “the next fish better be barrel eye!” That one blue fish reminded me that scientist have brought to life the seeds of prehistoric plants with their DNA and they are growing and it may be possible to do the same with Wolly mamoths! I love jelly fish! Yesterday after reading this i just kind of watched videos of cuddle fish changing colors for an hour or so. Sorry this comments so long!

    http://bensstylecorner.blogspot.com/

    • Amy Rose March 12th, 2012 12:57 PM

      Whoa! I have to look into the whole growing-of-prehistoric-seeds thing; sounds amazing!

  • emcarls March 11th, 2012 7:44 PM

    I LOVE SEA CREATURES!!!!!!!!!!

  • Eiros March 12th, 2012 3:34 PM

    I love marine life, this was fun to read! I love cephalopods and Nautili are pretty much the cutest things ever!! I also saw someone mention vampyroteuthis, which I really think should be on this list!! I love it!!
    I do get creeped out by giant isopods though even though I like roly polys?

  • Dagmara March 12th, 2012 6:12 PM

    This article is so awesome! Well done.

  • Didi March 13th, 2012 1:29 AM

    The mimick octopus! It’s freaking awesome!!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8oQBYw6xxc

    By the way this article is amazing and exactly how I have felt my whole life! Bring on the appreciation for deep sea creatures :)

  • cancercowboy March 13th, 2012 10:23 PM

    the BBC made this series about the oceans http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Planet

    episode 2 is basically about the same subject. enjoy a snippet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrSu65Bb9X4

  • Indica March 14th, 2012 8:56 PM

    Every time I think Rookie can’t get more in sync with my interests, you go and do it and I am AMAZED once more.
    When I was five, I decided that my absolute favorite animal was the goblin shark, which induced strange looks from my classmates. So, in usual Kindergartner fashion, I suppressed my love for the icy deep. So THANK YOU for posting this! Now I know that I am not alone in my strange curiosities.
    Oh, and sorry for getting kind of fan girl on you guys. Embarrassing, I’m sure.

    • Anaheed March 14th, 2012 9:09 PM

      Well I just got kind of fangirl about you, because your favorite animal when you were 5 was the goblin shark. Amazing.

  • lxmldrt March 16th, 2012 1:36 AM

    Literally the best thing ever: This month on rookie

  • carlili March 16th, 2012 5:11 PM

    i used to be scare of squids and octopuses.

  • Micha March 19th, 2012 9:51 PM

    http://www.sciencefriday.com/videos/watch/10397
    Watch This! It is unreal!

  • yael March 20th, 2012 2:40 PM

    The Leafy Seadragon and his cousin, the Weedy Seadragon:

    http://intenseindividuals.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/01.jpg

    http://i294.photobucket.com/albums/mm84/Silverfire14/Nature%20and%20Wildlife/Point%20Defiance/Weedy_Sea_Dragon_2_02-14-08.jpg

    The axolotl:

    http://scienceblogs.com/zooillogix/axolotl2.JPG

  • Torrie March 29th, 2012 8:05 PM

    I gaped through this entire article.

  • seedyedie April 13th, 2012 7:12 PM

    How weird, I spent the entire day the other day watching and completing a series about pre-historic deep sea creatures! (wow I need to get out more)

    - Love this post!
    - Love this mag!
    xoxo

  • NotReallyChristian May 22nd, 2012 8:10 AM

    Oh my God I only just found this and this is amazing. BUT: no love for my two favourites, The Dumbo Octopus (SO CUTE! I fell in love with it when I saw one on a David Attenborough programme, and you could see its heart beating through its skin! Adorable) and the total badass of the deep sea, VAMPIROTOOTHUS. It has fake eyes that light up, and lights on the end of each tentacle so it can wave then round and confuse people. Oh, and it can turn itself inside out!!