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Planet Earth

The Ocean's Last Remaining Secrets

Marine biologists in the world's only undersea lab find wonder hidden in the depths.

By Jennifer BaroneOctober 31, 2008 5:00 AM


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Flowerlike crinoids grow on stalks, permanently anchored to the ocean floor. Or so marine biologists thought until they accidentally decapitated one and it got up and crawled away. In this lighthearted memoir, Ellen Prager, chief scientist of the only undersea lab in the world, recounts dozens of tales from her decades of research at sea:

Off the coast of Florida, a marine scientist finds herself out of air more than 100 feet beneath the water’s surface. An oceanographic vessel under sail in the Sargasso Sea outruns a wayward hurricane. Researchers trail behind “prodigiously pooping parrotfish” with plastic bags, collecting the cloudy offerings for nutrient cycling studies. A sea lion skews wave data while loitering aboard the measurement buoy.

As rising fuel costs, limited funding for cruises, and a new emphasis on remote sensing keep many sea scientists stuck on dry land, Prager shows that for some ocean discoveries, you truly do have to be there.

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