The ocean is big. Really big. About 71 percent of our planet is covered in water, and yet we’ve explored less than 10 percent of the oceans. So what’s down there? Mysteries upon mysteries.
Here are a few of my favorites, with brilliant collage accompaniments by Emma D.
In 1995, divers found something weird off of a coast near Japan: huge “crop circles” dug into the sand on the ocean floor. What made them? Aquatic aliens? Bored teenage dolphins? They only last a few days under the ocean currents before dissolving, then being replaced with new ones, so the culprits had to be close to the scene of the crime, but it took more than a decade for someone to catch them in action.
Turns out that these elaborate designs are actually…pufferfish love nests! Tiny male pufferfish dig these HUGE patterns in the sand, sometimes even decorating them with shell fragments, in order to send a beacon out to all the lady pufferfish in the area. If a female is suitably impressed, she’ll lay her eggs in the center of the circle, creating a new generation of sneaky seafloor artists.
Some seafloor mysteries are more enduring, like this “UFO” in the Baltic Sea. A 13-foot-high stone disk with a hole in the top is just sitting under the ocean at the end of what looks like a freaking runway, and no one knows what it is.
There’s probably a perfectly rational explanation for this thing, but it’s a whole lot more fun to believe that someone decided to park their UFO in the middle of the Baltic just to mess with us humans, isn’t it?
If today’s ocean is strange, the ancient ocean was even weirder. In 1899, one of these crazy fossils was found in Kazakhstan. It kinda looks like a seashell, but that spiral is actually a 250 million–year-old fish’s jaw.
What? How did those teeth even work? They belonged to shark-like fish called Helicoprion, which means “spiral saw” in Greek. For over a century, scientists had no idea where this terrible set of chompers was positioned on the fish’s body. In its throat (for maximum tearing power)? On a fin (for maximum terrifying power)?
Last year, scientists at Idaho State University sat down to study this prehistoric jaw from hell and figured out that the crazy whorl of teeth grew exactly where teeth usually do: inside its mouth. Instead of a tongue, Helicoprion had a mass of up to 150 teeth sitting in its bottom jaw, just waiting to tear up whatever unlucky creature ended up in its mouth. Thanks, Idaho State. We’ll sleep much better now.
The ocean is a noisy place, even without the sound of human boats and sonar. Some of those sounds are pretty weird—like the Antarctic “bio-duck,” the nickname given to an elusive creature that confused scientists by quacking underwater, where no quacking should occur.
Turns out it wasn’t a duck, or even a bird—the quacks were coming from minke whales! Despite this discovery, the mystery of why the whales quack lives on.
Other sounds are bigger—much bigger. Like Bloop, a weird noise that was discovered in 1997, when it was heard on microphones placed over 3,000 miles apart in the Pacific Ocean! It was incredibly loud and sounded kind of like a whale call when it was sped up, which led to all sorts of stories of a giant whale (or possibly even a Kraken, a mythical deep-sea monster) living in the deep.
In 2012, scientists (who probably know more about this sort of thing than internet cryptozoologists) squashed these theories and said that the Bloop is more likely the sound of an “icequake.” Still, the original sound did come from near the fictional sea horror Cthulhu’s supposed lair, so believe what you will!
Some sounds are still unexplained, like “upsweep.” It was discovered all over the Pacific Ocean in 1991 and sounds like a siren, a type of fictional singing mermaid, when it’s sped up. This sound repeats itself on an endless loop, but has been gradually quieting down ever since its discovery. My guess is that the sirens are on to us.
What else is lurking beneath the depths? Well, just about anything could be! It’s estimated that humans have only catalogued about a third of marine life, and we’re discovering new species all the time.
We’re familiar with the creatures that live at about a Washington Monument–height depth of 556 feet, but the ocean’s average depth equals 13,120 feet, and the West Pacific Mariana Trench, which is the deepest part of the ocean, is 36,201 feet deep. So there’s a lot we don’t know about.
Here’s to many more years of oceanic exploration, discoveries, and mysteries! ♦