People binge watch so many things. The Summer Olympics are coming July 23 – August 8. The Tour de France started on June 26 and continues until July 18. People binge watch Schitt’s Creek, Gray’s Anatomy, or a whole host of other shows. Happening now, as I write this, is the most binge-worthy, geek-worthy, mermaid-worthy option of all. It started on June 30 and continues until July 29 – an entire month! The past few days, and the next few weeks, this mermaid will be binge-watching explorations into the depths of our home! This is marine invertebrate geeking out at it’s best! And you can do it too! Whether for a few minutes or ALL DAY, you can be a deep ocean underwater explorer! What are we watching? AN EXPEDITION! We’re on an expedition!!! Specifically, the North Atlantic Stepping Stones Expedition! This amazing geek-fest is brought to us by NOAA and their friends.
Our friends at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – we are biased towards the Oceanic division here) are wonderful supporters of learning about and protecting our oceans. One of the things that they like to do is go where no man (or woman or mermaid) has gone before. I think that is the beginning of a sci-fi series, but this is real life stuff – right here on our ocean planet! They like to go to the depths of the ocean and see what’s there. I’ve watched several of these before. But this exploration is even more special, because IT IS IN (or at least off of) NEW ENGLAND!!!
The coolest thing is watching it live. We get to see things at the exact same time as the explorers on the quest actually see them. We get to join in their excitement of new discoveries. One time, a couple year’s ago, I watched as “we” came upon a never before seen species of tunicates – and it was my favorite color, purple. As I was one of the first people to ever see it, and because purple is my favorite color, I hoped that it could be named after me, but, alas, that did not happen.
So let’s think back to all of the invertebrates that we met in my first blog. If you have not read it, that’s okay – you can catch up here. In that blog, I introduced you to some animals that do not look at all like animals. Well, all those invertebrate animals that we met in my first blog have relatives who live far away, even miles beneath them. Miles is far in mermaid distance. Down below, in the depths of the cold waters, in the open ocean off of the New England coast, and up to over 4000 meters deep (that’s greater than 2 miles below the surface), live sponges, tunicates, sea stars, sea cucumbers, bryozoans, crabs, fish, and corals, yes CORALS! Deep sea corals!!!
And, yes, I promise … we will meet and learn more about each of these in more detail in the future. I must confess that I have not been as active writing my blog as I had expected, but, well … life happens, and, while wandering the other day, I came across this and just had to buy it, because it sums up my situation so well … I hope you understand … I’ve been busy doing mermaid things.
Let’s get back to coral as an example of what’s happening down there. Lots of these sea creatures grow together in large groups called colonies, often asexually reproduced as identical clone-like twins – oooh, how science fiction-like! When we look at a coral, we are actually looking at lots and lots of tiny animals. So while they hang out together, they certainly aren’t extroverts, probably because they are sessile. Ooh, cool new word. Sessile means that they lack self-mobility. Basically, they find a place to settle and stay there. This, of course, makes it hard for the deep sea coral to travel to visit or even meet their relatives above, not even on holidays. But this also prevents any drama such as political arguments, hurt feelings over who was invited or not, and critiques over the pot-luck food (no criticizing of the choice of plankton) that sometimes occur at family reunions. Ah, I digress …
Here’s the main point – there are varieties of animals that are similar to the ones that we see close to the surface all the way down in the bottom of our ocean, and many, many, many, many, many more that we don’t even know about yet. And if you watch some of this expedition, you might even get a chance to be one of the first people to ever see something for the first time. How cool is that?
You may remember that, in my first blog, I mentioned that almost everything in the picture was an animal, even if it looked like a plant. We do have beautiful plant-life here in New England waters. If you watch the explorations, or just look at the picture below of my tv screen (yes, evidence of my binge-watching), everything that you see, if it is not a mineral, IS AN ANIMAL! Yup – an animal! There are no plants down there in the deep sea, because there is no sunlight. If you were seeing a clearer picture of this on NOAA’s site, you would see that the large white and yellow-ish ball with the large white ribbon-like structure on it are 2 different sponges. Inside the crevices of each of those sponges were a variety of other creatures using them as their homes – crustaceans, brittle stars, worms, corals … it is amazing! And there are other animals surround them as well. While virtually joining this expedition, I learned about some new animals with really odd names. There is the Irregular Urchin. I thought that name was a bit insulting, and it made me think of the irregular clothing that was always to be found at great prices at Marshall’s. Now that I think about it, given that I am perfectly fine with irregular clothing, perhaps it is a compliment to be an irregular urchin. No creature should strive to be simply “regular.” That’s boring! I also learned about the slime sea star and the water walkers (a type of arthropod that would totally freak me out if I saw it on land, but it is beautiful and graceful underwater).
Note: all credit for photos/videos goes to NOAA as I simply took a cell-phone snapshot of my television or computer screen)
Here’s what’s crazy … oceans cover over 70% of our planet, and yet over 80% of our oceans remain un-explored! We have explored more of the moon, other planets, and other parts of our solar system than we have of planet Earth – which leads to another reason that we need to protect our oceans. We risk destroying things that we never even knew existed! So many people love science fiction (and that’s cool, right?), and governments like to explore space – yet there is so much cool sci-fi type stuff right here on earth that we are just beginning to learn about!
So how do you participate as an explorer? It’s easy!
During a good portion of everyday through July 29th, you can watch the live stream at this link: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/livestreams/welcome.html You will see that there are 3 cameras. I usually watch camera 1 during the dive. Sometimes I go to camera 2 for a different view. Camera 3 has charts and graphs and stuff for those of you who enjoy that. The dives are narrated as they go. Narrated, not scripted – that is a key difference. You hear the excitement in the explorers’ voices when they come upon these creatures. This mermaid would like to hang out with these explorers, because they are as geeky as I am – they get excited about fish and marine invertebrates. Some of them get excited about rocks. You can pause the live stream, watch it later, scroll through forward and back after it is complete, so you do not need to view it in real time. You can even pretend that it is real-time – just hide your clocks and turn off your phone – I won’t tell. It makes it more fun that way!
After the dive is over, please don’t just turn off the screen like I used to do. If you watch the ascent, especially from camera 2 when it is looking down, you’ll see so many tiny planktonic creatures, some that look like alien life forms, that, in a particularly busy area, will look like freaky shooting stars! See? I’m appealing to the sci-fi folks again!
Like any good thing, it is easy to get really caught up in this live exploration, and keep this on either in the fore-front or background all day long, even at work. This can conflict with your job, so I do not recommend this … though, confession here – I do it! Then again, this mermaid is pretty much her own boss, so there’s no one to fire me, thought I have given myself a good talking to about my habits. I did not listen to myself.
I hope you enjoy exploring! Time for me to go, watch some more footage, and meet new deep sea friends!