Monterey Bay Aquarium Showcases Rare Denizens Of The Deep Sea In New Exhibit

On Saturday, the Monterey Bay Aquarium unveiled its newest exhibit, Into The Deep, a display of deep-sea animals and ecosystems unlike anything else. On any other day at the Aquarium, hoards of people gathered around the iconic kelp forest display, charismatic sea otters, or enormous open ocean tank that spans two stories. But, upon Into The Deep’s opening, the exhibit was quickly flooded with adults and children, a testament to the lure of the mysterious deep sea and the curiosity it inspires.

“The deep sea is the largest living space on earth,” said Kevin Connor, Director of Communications at Monterey Bay Aquarium, “We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the surface of our own planet underwater.”

Comprised of over 50 species with more than 200 different animals expected to rotate through in the coming years, this exhibit is made possible by a series of unique opportunities. The aquarium sits at the edge of Monterey Canyon, a massive underwater habitat that is deeper than the Grand Canyon where many of the species on exhibit originate. And, the animals are captured and studied by scientists at the nearby Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

The exhibit opens with a 3D model of Monterey Canyon that overlooks the lower level of the open ocean tank, acclimatizing visitors to where the journey to the deep sea begins. Visitors than traverse the midwater gallery where the last rays of sunlight hit, to the bottom of the seafloor, which includes forays into seamounts (underwater mountains) and a whale fall (biodiverse habitats that form around whale carcasses).

Mimicking the habitat it celebrates, Into the Deep is quite lightless, but not at all lifeless; each pinprick of light that catches the eye indicates a new animal or habitat in need of exploration.

When MBARI researchers recover an organism that will be put on display for Into the Deep, aquarium staff must take their environmental conditions into account because maintaining deep-sea organisms in an aquarium environment is a delicate task.

“The deep sea has a bunch of extra, more extreme challenges [including] cold water, pressure, pH, and [low] oxygen,” said Megan Olhasso, Curator of Fish & Invertebrates at the Aquarium.

By paying such close attention to their environmental conditions, the exhibit is able to showcase many unique animals. For example, there are siphonophores, which could easily be mistaken for a chain of translucent beads, and disintegrate when disturbed. Just before the whale fall, there is a vibrant deep-sea coral reef. One of the final stops on this descent is an opportunity to pet a giant isopod. And, one of the first animals in the exhibit is the bloody-belly comb jelly; it is the only such display on the planet.

“These animals have basically never been seen before in public, other than maybe in Japan,” said Beth Redmond-Jones, the Aquarium’s Vice President of Exhibitions. “There is also a 180-degree surround theatre piece of never-bef0re-seen footage of jellies bioluminescing.”

While Into the Deep celebrates the diversity of life in the deep sea, it also nods to how humans are impacting this seemingly remote environment. Both a display and an interactive video game show how fragments of biological decay (”marine snow”) are indistinguishable from pieces of plastic — for both humans and deep-sea animals.

Upon exiting the exhibit, there is an atrium overlooking Monterey Bay with sea otters playing in the kelp forest canopy just beyond the window. On the horizon are the surface waters sitting above the canyon that the exhibit animals call home. It is at this point that the deep sea feels closest to humanity onshore.

“The deep sea is not devoid of life,” said Conner, “Life survives and thrives there and survives under the most extreme conditions anywhere. It is not disconnected from the kelp forest or sea otters that we are looking at.”

Reference-www.forbes.com

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