An Oceanic Ode

This guest post is brought to you by Sheanna Steingass.  Shea is a graduate student at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute studying the behavioral ecology of pinnipeds. She is also author of,  a marine debris blog focusing on the Pacific Northwest. Catch her previous post Fishful Thinking: Five Reasons why Mermaids Can’t Physically Exist

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of nautical lore —

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my office door.

“ ’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “asking again about ocean lore —

Only this and nothing more.”


Ah, distinctly I remember it was the gray Oregon December;

And in the distance I could hear the waves crash upon the shore.

Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow

From my textbooks cease of sorrow — mistake of science for ocean lore—

Of the unreal and radiant mermaiden whom I really thought a bore —

Nameless here for evermore.


As the soothing and uncertain rumbling of each aqua curtain

Thrilled me — as each tidal wave washed ashore;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“There are amazing creatures in the waves beyond the shore —

Ones that far outshine the whisperings of ocean lore; —

They exist and nothing more.”


Presently my thrills grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

I thought of the creatures which science has explored;

But the fact is the public’s asking, and marine science is ever tasking,

To know what creatures there lay upon the ocean floor,

That are far more fascinating than legend — than ocean lore; ——

The ones that science ought to explore.


Deep into that darkness peering, I thought of creatures then appearing,

In my head as thoughts of animals like none seen before;

The nudibranchs, echinoderms, cetaceans, each its own unique creation

Each one more fascinating than the one before.

This I pondered, as my imagination scanned the ocean floor —

Over undersea vents and near the shore.


First, Orcinus orca, the bringer of death, a beautiful fury with predator’s breath.

Whose artful visage many species do abhor

He spends his lifetime bound to kin, a social life that rivals men;

Who has his own dialect and vocabulary store —

A scourge to prey within the sea and upon the shore —

May he click and squeal forevermore.


In my mind’s eye I flung the shutter, when, within my thoughts did sputter,

Vampiroteuthis infernalis, the vampire squid with his black chromatophores;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, on the end of each pulsing limb, a glowing aqua photophore—

Lit up like a lighthouse hailing ships to safer shores —

He drifted into the abyssal darkness, vanishing forevermore.

Vampire Squid

Then traveling ever deeper, my feeble eyesight growing weaker,

A hydrothermal vent teeming with extremophiles upon the ocean floor,

Tubeworms, shellfish, bivalves, octopi, thrive in smoking hydrogen sulfide

Braving temperatures as hot as Celsius 464 —

Each animal more unique than the last, as if pulled from fiction’s store

Like no creatures seen above the ocean shore.

Vent Pic

Much I marveled at this place as I ascended,

Arose swiftly from the ocean’s core;

As I left the zone that few human beings

Are very often blessed with seeing; I traveled from the ocean’s floor—

I thought of creatures bold and brighter, nearer to the ocean shore,

And dwelt in darkness nevermore.


Rising up to bluer waters, gave my imagination fodder

To seek out creatures who seemed nearer to imagination’s door

The blue dragon nudibranch, Glaucus atlanticus, surely from Poseidon’s corp,

Whose iridescent blue wings fluttered as the ocean waves rolled back and fore

A reminder that each marine invertebrate is more beautiful than the one before

Left me in awe forevermore.

Blue Dragon Nudibranch

Marveling at the ocean’s creatures, seeking out more faunal features,

I thought of the humble rockfish, who some might think to be a bore

Ambling through the waves unworried, ever calm and rarely hurried

A life which patience doth implore, he lives two centuries or more —

Oft ‘till the dirges of his tasty flesh make fisheries his burden bore

Long live the rockfish, nevermore.

Starry RockfishBut the sea’s treasures still piling, I found myself then smiling,

Thinking of the creatures creeping on the ocean floor;

Like the sunflower sea star, Pycnopodia helianthoides,

A beauty lethal, with 24 arms flush as the petals of a rosy fleur —

It feeds on countless prey within the rocky intertidal shore

A predator other invertebrates do oft deplore.

Sunflower Star

And where at once the tide grew stiller, I did then sight that knightly killer

The mighty shark which modern evolution did ignore.

Lithely swims with tail curled, with razor teeth flashing, whorled

Alas, the shark does claim no more the fiercest throne the ocean o’er

As the finning trade then sought him to gore

Swam the shark most proudly, nevermore.

Reef SharkPeering towards the vast horizon, two blue forms my eyes did spy on,

Swimming on like two Leviathons, those giants that I do adore,

The blue whale (B.musculus) and whale shark (Rhincodon typus)

Although the largest fish, and the whale, ne’er a larger creature did come before;

They feast on but the tiniest creatures that the ocean bore;

Merely these and nothing more.

Whale Shark

Back ashore the tide was turning, and as I watched with youthful yearning

As the blue waves kept gliding, turning, and seafoam crept across the shore

Weary then my eyes did flutter, and I closed the textbook cover,

My mind reeling with creatures found in the sea and on the shore.

Each drop of saltwater a world alone to be explored.

The world which forms the ocean’s core.


How curious, thought I, then wondering, that one would spend time pondering

Imaginary creatures when there are already so many within the ocean’s store

Creatures wrought as if from fiction, but well within science’s diction.

Far more fabulous than fantasy could have ever bore;

To study them myself I swore, like many marine scientists before.

Long live our oceans, evermore.


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