Life in the Deeps

What does one think when asked what they think lurks within the depths of the world’s oceans? From a typical Schlock reader, one would assume mentions of the likes of sea serpents, gigantic man eating sharks, merfolk. Octopi of immense scale, lovingly dragging divers to their lairs. Squid of similarly colossal sizes, locked in combat with sperm whales. And within the deepest and darkest waters, where the very laws of physics are crushed into insanity, lies the ancient city of R’lyeh, sunken aeons ago, now home to Cthulhu, the dread ancient thing, dreaming, waiting for the time when the stars are ripe and R’lyeh is lifted back to the surface…

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Fanciful nonsense, obviously. Of the entertainingly schlocky variety, true, which we eat up in huge wobbly mouthfuls. But what about the real ancient dread things, lurking in our planet’s oceans – and let’s not forget, more than 75% of our world’s surface is covered in liquid. Let Schlock Magazine guide you to a small trip around the abyss; the actual one, this time. Or at least what’s known of it.

First of all, let’s clear the obvious elephant in the room. Or rather, the Giant Squid. Growing to an estimated maximum length of 13 metres from tentacle tip to its end, the giant squid is a long mythologised creature of the depths. Not surprisingly, seeing how our knowledge on the beast is mostly derived from badly preserved bodies, either found washed up on beaches or beaks and bits from the stomachs of sperm whales. The first time actual footage of a living giant squid was captured as recently as 2004 by a Japanese team

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In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle described a giant squid, called teuthus, of size ‘five ells long’.

So you can imagine, legends of giant squid have been around for a long time.

Bigger still than the giant squid is the Colossal Squid, which is estimated to grow up to 14 metres long, if not more. While the giant squid’s tentacles are equipped with suckers surrounded by a ring of horn with which to hold on to prey, the colossal squid’s tentacles are equipped with sharp hooks to grasp firmly to whatever it eats. Sperm whales have been found with scars all over their bodies, probably originating from battles with such squids.

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Above is pictured the biggest specimen of Colossal Squid – and biggest cephalopod – ever caught. At 10 metres long, and weighing 495kg, it was caught of the coast of New Zealand. Its beak was smaller than some found in the stomachs of whales, meaning that there are far bigger individuals out there.

Giant and Colossal squids are an example of abyssal gigantism, the tendency of deep water species to grow to sizes far larger than their shallow water counterparts. This can be seen in the colossal squid from their large and robust beak and huge eyes.

Squid of enormous dimensions are not the only cephalopods of interest though – or even squid. What about the Humbolt squid, also known as the Diablo Rojos (red devils) in Spanish for their red colouring and vicious swarming temperaments?


Or Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the Vampire Squid from Hell. Not a vampire, not from hell, but a weird squid species.

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You might have seen the footage of the bizarre Megapinna squid, with its long, elbowed tentacles.


image: National Geographic

Let’s not forget octopi! Or octopuses, whichever you prefer. Octopi are awesome, not to mention smart – in experiments, an octopus could open a screw-top jar in order to get the food inside. They’re also innate escape artists, as many aquarium enthusiasts could tell on their attempts at keeping an octopus in captivity. No one’s sure whether they can actually tell the future, as suggested by this year’s infamous Paul the Octopus and its success at predicting World Cup match results (via the medium of choosing one of two boxes, each holding a snack).

The Pacific Giant Octopus is, as its name suggests, a giant amongst octopi. A seemingly gentle giant, seen here fraternising with a diver in waters off the coast of Japan.

Copyright: Andrei Shpatak

However the Pacific Giant Octopus also proved to be a badass, as seen in this footage where a specimen at a zoo made a snack out of the sharks sharing its tank.


Do octopi use tools? This footage suggests so, as this octopus carries a coconut shell around, using it as a piece of armour.


It’s a well known fact that octopi are masters of disguises, changing their colour and even shape to blend with their surroundings. The Indonesian Mimic Octopus, however – described only in 1998 – takes camouflage a step further, by literally transforming its shape and behaviour to imitate any number marine species, from a scorpion fish to a sea snake.

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Here’s the Mimic Octopus in action –


Below are two cute deep water octopi – a telescope octopus and a glowing sucker octopus. Both live in depths of over 2000 metres!

Copyright: Steven Haddock and Claire Nouvian

A small factoid: you might have noticed that a lot of deep sea creatures – such as the giant and colossal squid – are red in colour. Why so? Red in the pitch blackness of the depths is invisible to the eye, since very little or no red light actually makes it to deeper waters.

Of course, the abyssal planes are not just home to octopi and squid. There’s plenty of incredibly ugly fish as well.

image: National Geographic

This is a Fangtooth fish, which lives in depths of up to 5,000 meters. To give you an idea of the pressures in such depths, a human being can survive for up to 2 minutes in the vacuum of space, while only a few seconds in such waters before being crushed into a pulp.

Anglerfish are fairly well known, with their hanging light sprouting from between their eyes. Less well known are the Dragon Fish, whose light is at the end of a filament growing underneath their chin. Both kinds of fish use their bioluminescence to lure prey into their gaping spiky toothed maws.

image: National Geographic

The Barreleye might look like an average fish, but that’s before you realize that its skull is in fact transparent. It derives its name from its barrel shaped eyes, with their sensitive green orb-like lenses, which can be swiveled around the soft transparent dome housing them.

There are lots of weird shark species out there, but there’s only space for one here, unfortunately. This is the Goblin Shark, a deep water species coming from a shark lineage originally thought to be completely extinct.

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Not much is known about this kind of shark. When filming for a documentary, researchers found that it can literally extend its jaws from its body so as to grab on to prey, as seen in this footage:


Abyssal Gigantism was mentioned earlier, as the phenomenon where deep sea creatures grow larger than their shallow water counterparts. This is of course not only limited to squid and octopi; there are many examples of huge deep water denizens, such as the Japanese Giant Spider Crab:


The length of their spiny legs averages at around 12 feet when fully grown, surrounding a roughly football sized body. While Japanese waters house the biggest, spider crabs are found in most seas and oceans, including the Mediterranean, where they also reach relatively big sizes.

Vampire Sea Spider from Antarctica? No, not made up by H.P. Lovecraft, although it wouldn’t look out of place in the Mountains of Madness…

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While scientists believe these creatures are distant relatives to ordinary land-dwelling spiders, these deep water critters have so far managed to defy classification conventions. Sea spiders usually have four pairs of legs, although some species have five pairs. They feed through a tube, through which they suck on their prey of sponges and sea slugs. The deep seas around Antarctica house the biggest and most varied kinds of sea spiders, suggesting that these blind, crawling mysteries have an important role in the ecosystem there.

Of course, this small article is but a scratch on the surface – or rather, a scratch on scratch, a very tiny sampler of what’s out there. A visit to the Census of Marin Life website will offer a lot of imagery and facts to go through Deep Sea News is another site worth visiting for anyone with an interest on the world’s oceans

Finally, one last viewing suggestion,  Hide and Seek in the deeps:


Since you’ve managed to get to the very end of this essay, here’s a favourite of ours. Squids! Lots of squids.