Deep Time: Beauty in the Ocean Depths

The oceans occupy more than two-thirds of our planet’s surface and account for 97 percent of the water it contains. Yet, we know far more about the moon than we do about life under the high seas. Instagram images of leaping whales and spinner dolphins merely skim the surface of this vast expanse of liquid beauty. Even at depths of 1 km where no light ever reaches, strange-looking life forms eke out a living in a dark and icy world of surprising, otherworldly beauty.

The following photo-video gallery pays homage to the remarkable life forms in what may be called the “other universe”. Look out the incredible deep-sea video footages.


Phytoplankton are microscopic drifting plants. They combine nutrients and seawater with energy from the sun to create the very foundation of every food chain in the oceans. So, all animals, from the smallest fish to the largest whale ultimately depend on these tiny plants for food. In turn, phytoplankton benefits from the nutrients produced by these animals.

Gentle Giants
Every year from March to August, whale sharks – the world’s biggest fish – congregate along the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, providing divers with a unique opportunity to swim alongside these gentle giants which can grow up to 18 metres long.

Photo: Lachlan Ross

Whale sharks cruise the world’s oceans in search of concentrations of plankton to feed on, and the Ningaloo Reef is one of the only places on the planet they appear regularly in large numbers. Very little is known about the biology of these great fishes. Although whale sharks do not generally live at great depths, they are known to occasionally dive to depths of as much as 1,800 metres (5,900 ft).

Frontal view of a whale shark in the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, with the sun’s rays forming a beautiful backdrop of spotlights. Photo: Ibrahim Roushdi.

A 30-Tonner under the Sea
This surreal image shows a 30-ton humpback whale and her calf. It was taken in the waters of Reunion Island in the Western Indian Ocean. The photographer’s friend can be seen swimming side by side to the left of the mother whale. Humpback whales live both in the open ocean and shallow coastline waters. When not migrating, they prefer shallow waters in contrast to deep divers such as Curvier’s beaked whale and the sperm whale which can dive to depths of more than 2,000 metres.

Photo: François Baelen.

Devil Ray Ballet
Two devil manta rays in the throes of a graceful courtship dance beneath the surface of the waters in Honda Bay, Palawan island in the Philippines. They were among five rays that were swirling around the photographer, four males in pursuit of one female.

Photo: Duncan Murrell.

Winged Beauties
A school of spotted eagle rays glides gracefully through the island-speckled waters of the Maldives. They are often seen gathering in groups near the surface, “flying” through the water by flapping their pectoral fins and sometimes even leaping porpoise-like into the air. The ray’s dorsal side, invisible in this image, is covered with a signature pattern of vivid spots.

Photo: National Geographic

A Living Fossil
Diver Laurent Ballesta with an ancient fish known as the Coelacanth (seel-a-canth) at a depth of 120 metres off the coast of South Africa. Long thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, the first live Coelacanths was discovered in South Africa in 1938. Since then, live coelacanths have been spotted in the western Indian Ocean (primarily in the Comoros Island situated between Madagascar and the east coast of Africa) and as far as Sulawesi, Indonesia, nearly 6,000 miles to the east of the Comoros. These rare fishes with thick bluish scales are known to live at depths of 200 metres or more. One of its most interesting features are its paired fins which move in a similar fashion to human arms and legs.

Video: Finding the Coelacanth
A team of National Geographical divers off the coast of South Africa comes face to face with a Coelacanth.

It’s a ray, it’s a shark… it’s Chimaeras
Chimaeras (ghost sharks) are a pointy-nosed, wing-finned fish rarely seen by people. Also nicknamed “rat fish”, it is an ancient relative of the shark and manta rays, and are believed to have been gliding through the ocean depths long before the dinosaurs.

Here’s a video recently released by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California that sheds new light on the mysterious Chimera.

Angling for Prey in the Deep Seas.
At the depth of more than 1,000 metres, no sunlight reaches the waters. The animals who live down here produce their own light, like the deep-sea angler fish. This strange-looking fish carries on its body whiskers of fine-ray filaments, each emitting bioluminescent light. Her extraordinary sense of sensors will detect even the faintest movement by prey tempted to her lure.

Photo: from the nature documentary series, Our Planet (2019) produced by Silverback Films and narrated by Sir David Attenborough

Video: For the time first, a footage of a male deep-sea anglerfish clinging to the body of the much larger female to mate with her.

“Christmas tree” coral (Antipathes dendrochristos), a newly discovered species of black coral found off the California coast in 2005. 

We once thought that without sunlight, corals cannot exist. But scientists have found corals up to 6,000 metres (20,000 feet) below the ocean’s surface, where the water is icy cold and sunlight absent. In fact, there are nearly as many species of deep-sea corals as shallow-water species. Like shallow-water corals, deep-sea corals may exist as individual coral polyps, diversely-shaped colonies and even as reefs with many colonies made up of one or more species. Unlike shallow-water corals, however, these corals obtain the energy and nutrients they need to survive by trapping tiny organisms in passing currents.

Deep-sea coral photographed near East Timor. Photo: Mark Amend

A Deep-sea Crustacean
This deep-water crustacean known as systesoma, is as clear as glass, allowing it to hide in plain sight. In this twilight zone, invisibility can be the difference between finding a meal and being one.  

Photo: Our Planet

Illuminating Creatures
In the darkness of the deep oceans, fishes have evolved bioluminescence as a strategy to find prey. A glowing tongue entices victims into this Dragon Fish’s terrifying teeth. Dragon fish live in deep oceans up to depths of 1,500 metres (5,000 ft). P

Photo: Our Planet

The Mythical Oar Fish
Oarfish are the world’s longest bony fish, reaching as much as 30 feet in length.  Once thought to be the sea serpents of myths, this rare fish lives in ocean depths of between 200 and 1,000 meters and thus have been rarely seen or studied by researchers.

Rare footages of oarfish captured on film reveals a creature with a compressed elongated body with an undulating dorsal fin that propels the fish while keeping its body straight, in what is believed to be a feeding posture.

A Deep-sea “X-ray” fish
A translucent body disguises a larval flounder to keep it safe from predators. It will lose this defense mechanism later in life. Flounder undergo several striking physical transformations during their lifetimes. Very young flounder swim upright and have an eye on each side of their face. As they age, the fish begin to swim on their sides and one eye slowly migrates until both are on the body’s “top side.”

Photo: National Geographic

Looks are Deceiving
The comb jellyfish, whose scientific name is ctenophores (pronounced TEN-o-fors), look like creatures from another planet. Common in deep waters, they propel themselves with an outer layer of fine hairs called cilia and can grow up to five feet in length. Like all jellyfish, the comb jellyfish has no eyes, no ears, no digestive system, no muscles, and unlike other jellyfishes, no stinging cells. It is a creature composed of almost 100 percent water held together by two layers of transparent cells. Though it has no brains, the comb jellyfish does possess a complex nervous system, albeit one that is built with a different chemical language from all other animals, including other jellyfish and vertebrates. Evidently, this unique nervous system is smart enough to enable the comb jellyfish to hunt prey its own size, mate, and move nimbly through the water. And for a creature made up of essentially nothing, the comb jellyfish has impressive durability. It has roamed the oceans for 550 million years – infinity compared to the emergence of the first fully bipedal hominids 1.9 million years ago. Which suggests that there may have been two pathways to evolution, one that led to today’s ctenophores and the other which led to all other animals with nervous systems, including us.

Monster from the Deep
We love monsters, and the Giant Squid is one sea monster that has been the stuff of mariners’ nightmarish tales. Capturing a giant squid on camera is rare. The first photos of this cephalopod were taken by Japanese scientists in 2004, and the first video eight years later, also near Japan (watch the video below)

Video: Finding the Giant Squid
In 2013, a team of three scientists filmed a giant squid off the coast of Japan at a depth of 2,000 feet before the water surface. The video shows an animal that is pensive and almost shy. The 26-foot squid laid its arms on the flashing electronic lure (mimicking a jellyfish), quickly discerned that it was a fake, then propelled itself back into the dark whence it came.

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