Planet Earth

Gallery: Marine Census Finds the Beautiful Wee Beasties of the Deep Sea

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanApr 19, 2010 8:58 PM

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Kaleidoscopic. Delightfully odd. And too numerous to truly grasp. There are many more words one could deploy to describe the worlds unknown under the sea. An international group of scientists has been scouring them for life for the last decade, and later this year, on October 4, the Census of Marine Life will release it catalog of marine inhabitants. "The number could be astonishingly large, perhaps a million or more, if all small animals and protists are included," the organization says. Octopuses, jellyfish, and other sprawling sea creatures dominated the census' prior reports. But this time they've dived even deeper, surveying tiny life.

Remotely operated deep-sea vehicles discovered that roundworms dominate the deepest, darkest abyss. Sometimes, more than 500,000 can exist in just over a square yard of soft clay [AP]

. And then there are the microbes.

The scientists conservatively estimate that there must be at least 20 million kinds of microbe in the oceans. The true number may even be billions or trillions [Nature]

. Individual microbes reach even more astronomical number. There are probably a nonillion of them in the sea, the scientists estimate. That's a billion cubed, and then times 1,000. Or, if you prefer your measurements given in the weight of African elephants, it'd be 240 billion of them. Take a peek through this quick slideshow of some of the weirdest ocean life seen so far. Image: David Patterson et. al.

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This blue-green algae, lyngbya, dates back more than 3 billion years in the fossil record. Image: David Patterson et. al.

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This is but a section of an enormous "mat" of microbes found on the seafloor. The mat, researchers say, extends to cover an area the size of Greece.

Spotted off Chile and Peru by a team led by marine biologist Dr Victor Ariel Gallardo, the mats are made of filamentous bacteria that are 2 to 7 centimetres long and big enough to be seen by the naked eye. The "Goliath" bacteria live in a part of the ocean that has very little oxygen, relying on hydrogen sulphide instead [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

. Image: David Patterson et. al.

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This larva belongs to tornaria, a kind of acorn worm that likes to live in plankton. Image: Russ Hopcroft

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This funny-looking character is in the larval stage, too, but it is a tube anemone. Image: Cheryl Clarke-Hopcroft

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This mishmash of bacteria comes from a salt marsh. The darkest is called Beggiatoa; the green in lyngbya, which we saw in the second slide. Image: David Patterson et. al.

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Each of these golden ovals is a single cell. They are dinoflagellates, a kind of protist. Image: Bob Andersen and David Patterson Related Content: 80beats: Beauty Under the Microscope: The Winners of Nikon’s Small World Contest 80beats: Photo Gallery: Ridiculously Good Photography of LIFE in All Its Glory 80beats: Underwater Census: Frigid Oceans Are Surprisingly Popular Place to Live 80beats: Curiosities of the Deep Revealed in First Census of Sea Life DISCOVER: Serpents, Flyers & Hammers: Strange Fish That Rule the Open Sea DISCOVER: 8 Marine Creatures that Light Up the Sea

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