The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just completed an ambitious mapping campaign in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Using the Okeanos Explorer ship, the agency has been studying the coast of the southeastern United States in detail and has encountered some extraordinary creatures during its 17 dives. All the information, as well as many pictures and videos, are available on the Windows to the Deep 2018 website.
The diversity of the ocean floor is simply astounding. Creatures comprising a myriad of colors, shapes, and sizes have developed just as many strategies to survive in an environment that us surface dwellers certainly wouldn’t describe as livable.
The first dive took place on May 22 and the expedition ended last week with dive 17 on July 1. It was particularly intriguing for both biological and geological reasons. The research vessel was exploring the Currituck Landslide, one of the largest submarine landslides along the East Coast. Although it happened between 24,000 and 50,000 years ago, it is extremely relevant for modeling tsunami risk in the area. The researchers report no changes between current and previous observations.
The biological excitement comes from the first observation of an unidentified anemone at a depth of roughly 1,878 meters (6,161 feet), as well as a sighting of a weird lizardfish and a truly peculiar colonial hydroid. But it wasn’t just the final dive that delivered incredible views from under the sea.
In previous dives from this mission, researchers saw the stunning yellow-pink swallowtail bass and got a rare glance of an ocean sunfish. A peculiar sight was a hermit crab using an anemone as a shell. This strange relationship is clearly mutually beneficial as the hermit crab gets extra protection thanks to the anemone's stinging ability and the anemone gets to move around the seafloor. Check out some of the incredible fish seen on the penultimate dive – dive 16 – below.
Okeanos Explorer is the only federally funded US ship tasked with the important mission of systematically studying the many unknown areas of the ocean. It is important to clarify what it is meant by unknown areas. We know roughly what the entire seafloor looks like, but current maps are at a low resolution and only see details larger than 5 kilometers (3 miles). Only about 5 percent of the ocean has been explored in greater detail so far, and we know regions of other planets better than we know our own oceans.
NOAA's Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition recently filmed a ferocious eel taking on a barracuda close to the seafloor. Check out the incredible footage here.