Revealing life at the Ridge

Some amazing new pictures were released this week from the final cruise of the ECOMAR program, focused around the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Researchers reported a distinct set of fauna on the East and West sides of this tectonic divide (despite these sites being located only a few miles apart), and recovered a slew of new species. Including a bunch of disturbingly phallic Acorn Worms:

Acorn Worm

Acorn Worm #2, Courtesy of David Shale

Acorn Worm #3
(All images courtesy of David Shale)

I was lucky enough to sail aboard the penultimate ECOMAR cruise last year, so I’ll let you in on a few trade secrets.

First of all, whenever you see these types of press shots you’re not looking at some wild, free-range deep-sea creature in its natural habitat. Nope, these pictures are taken in a fish tank (albeit a rather sophisticated-looking one) onboard the ship, using a huge macro lens. Most deep-sea things tend to be a lot smaller in real life. (The exception, of course, is giant isopods—those things are freakin’ humongous.)

Secondly, all those pretty animals are dead as a doornail. Think about it—pulling up highly adapted species from the deep-sea is like rocketing a person into space without a spacesuit. The physiological toll is just too damaging to survive. To counter this problem, I have heard rumors of BBC people using creative solutions to make deep-sea fish appear more animated on film (methods involving glue and toothpicks?!?) but I can’t vouch for the validity of such speculations.

Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely adore these pictures and have great respect for deep-sea photographers. Very few people have the opportunity to get on a scientific research cruise, and these press images instill a serious sense of awe and wonder. Plus, they look much cooler than my amateur photos that show random gelatinous blobs strewn out on a lab table.

Holly Bik (160 Posts)

I am a computational biologist at the University of California, Riverside. My research uses DNA sequencing and genomics to study microbial eukaryotes (yeah, nematodes!) in marine ecosystems, with an emphasis on evolution and biodiversity in the deep-sea. I can neither confirm nor deny that I like Unix more than I like going to sea.

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