Blue Planet II – ‘The Deep’

The connection people make with the deep ocean and outer space has been made very often, science fiction certainly finds a lot of inspiration, and fiction about voyages to the bottom of the sea can be just as fascinating and mysterious as those about blasting off into space. Astronaut does mean “star sailor”, and apparently scientists did use to think space was made of fluid at some point. But I digress.

David Attenborough’s narration noted that “The deep ocean is as challenging to explore as space. We know more about the surface of Mars than we about the deepest part of our seas”.

During the filming of this series, they went deep down into the sea. Some of it was groundbreaking, as the depths of Antarctica had never been filmed before. The submarine in the programme did look rather like a spaceship. They expected that with the lack of sunlight there would be a dead world, rather like the surface of Mars come to think of it. In fact they found that the deep ocean is full of life!

Apparently there is more life in the deep sea than anywhere on Earth. It was described as “an alien world”, “the Twilight Zone” and a “Sea of eternal gloom”.

The Twilight Zone included 90% of all the fish in the ocean. There is very little light that gets to the depths of the ocean, and the darkness does make it look very like outer-space, and again it did look quite sci-fi seeing creatures like a swordfish, shark and pyrosome coming out of the dark.

This was even more so with seeing the bright red Humboldt squid, as space aliens have often been depicted as tentacled. These squid feed on lanternfish, and when all the lanternfish are gone the squid eat each other! One of their tricks is releasing a “smoke screen” of black ink, which appears rather smoke-like in the water.

But those are nothing compare to seeing the barreleye fish. It has a transparent head filled with jelly, meaning it can look through its own skull! It looked a bit like an astronaut helmet, and the unusualness of the creature certainly bought to mind sci-fi and outer space.

From the Twilight Zone we go deeper down to the Midnight Zone, which is even darker, and is pitch black all the time. David Attenborough even said in the narration “There’s life here, but not as we know it”.

Some creatures communicate here by lighting up themselves, which can look like sparkling stars, once again very space-like.

The fangtooth resembles a creature from the black lagoon, and some prey try luminous ink to distract it. Siphonophores, which I can best describe as looking a bit like a tree made of icicles, can grow longer than a blue whale, and are able to clone themselves for eternity.

Organic debris drifting down looks a bit like a snowglobe.

Jellyfish and seacucumbers look surreal, but there are even more unusual sights. The bright pink seatoad, which is actually a fish, but it has evolved feet to walk on the seafloor! The bright orange and blue flapjack octopus, which has what look like mouse ears on its head.

A huge spermwhale carcass is decaying on the ocean floor. It attracts the excellent sense of smell of a sixgill shark. The shark may not have eaten for a whole year, so it is ravenous. It bites into the carcass, releasing blood into the ocean, which attracts more starving sixgills. Only half a day later, seven of them are here, and they fight over who gets the carcass. They polish off a third of the carcass between them, though it is possibly the only meal they will have for a year. If so, they can survive for a year off that one meal alone.

More scavengers come for the carcass, and within 4 months all that is left are its bones. Even those are eaten too! Zombie worms inject acid into the bones and get what little fat there is from them there. In nature, everything gets used and recycled.

Venus’ flower basket is a sponge which houses two shrimps, a male and female. They are a couple, and the female is pregnant. She will lay her eggs and once they hatch, the young shrimp will escape the sponge to find a mate and a sponge of their own to live. But the parents can’t escape. They have grown too big. But they are safe here. It has been seen by viewers as both romantic, as a couple in a nice home till death us do part sort of way, and tragic, as what they are in is a bit of a gilded cage or a luxury prison cell.

Methane, from decaying matter in the sea floor gets released and shoots up, which looks a bit like a giant eyeball blasting off like a rocket! Sometimes brine is released, which after a while collects as pools on the seafloor. Yes, there are even lakes at the bottom of the sea! Cutthroat eels search for food in these brine lakes, which gives them a toxic shock, they end up coiling themselves in knots. The eel we see escapes, but the corpses of creatures who couldn’t still float in these brine lakes, including a squid which had its tentacles tangled up.

There are underwater volcanos too, so we see fire in the oceans, crumbling black rock and white clouds. In fact, three quarters of all Earth’s volcanic activity occurs in the deep.

Mariana Trench in the Pacific is so big “even Mount Everest could disappear inside it”. The life forms here are simple, but they can withstand the pressure and survive on minimal food.

There’s also the ethereal snailfish, the deepest living fish ever discovered, and it looks a bit like a ghost fish!

However, even the deep ocean isn’t safe from humans damaging it. There was an empty Spam tin found down there in the programme, and as overfishing has meant less fish near the surface, people have searched deeper down. Some coral reefs that have lasted for millions of years are now in ruins because of this.

There are deep seas on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. It’s possible there could be life on there too, however simple. There could well be life on other planets. I don’t believe aliens come here in flashy spaceships just to make patterns in cornfields, but yes I certainly think it’s possible other planets will have some form of life there, and who knows what they could look like. But there is plenty yet to discover on our own planet.

‘The Deep’ was one of the most astonishing, awe-inspiring episodes of television ever! They made plenty of comparisons of space, but the sights we saw were so surreal it was almost dream-like. It looks like another world, but this is our own planet!

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