Videos Capture The Strange World Of Deep-Sea Food Chains

The deep sea is one of the most interesting, unknown, and downright bizarre ecosystems on Earth.

Luckily, marine biologists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are working hard to unravel its mysteries. Recently, they have looked at food webs within the sea, such as shrimp munching jellies and deep-sea fish consumption squid. Their study was published this month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

They began  by looking at parts of the sea off the coast of central California, from the near-surface right down to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet). In this area alone, they managed to determine at least 84 different predators and 82 different prey types that participated in a total of 242 unique feeding relationships.

A number of these recent discoveries derive from 23,000 hours of video filmed with a remote-controlled sub. Best of all, you can check out the highlights of the stunning footage for yourself (below).

Jellies, of all animals, seem to be one of the most instrumental predators of the deep sea, perhaps as significant to the ecosystem as big fish.

“Our video footage proves that jellies are certainly not the dietary ‘dead ends’ we believed,” Anela Choy, one of the three researchers directing the project, explained in a statement. “As crucial predators, they might have just as much effect as big fishes and squids from the sea! ”

Scientists normally workout deep-sea food chains by amassing creatures, cutting them available, and looking at what’s inside their guts. But this method has its drawbacks. Scientists on this project, therefore, analyzed their diets by comparing the ratios of various all-natural components in the deep-sea animals’  tissues, paired together with the video footage, to work out the intricate chains of predation.

“This direct approach has never been used systematically” stated co-author Bruce Robison. “Unlike other methods, it entails no guesswork and offers very precise information about who eats whom in the sea.”

All deep-sea food webs were found to be finally fueled by procedures from the surface waters, notably by phytoplankton-based organic matter that pops up the sunlight and generates energy via photosynthesis. These are then ingested by krill and other zooplankton or from gelatinous filter feeders. The net then spreads out with ever-gaining sophistication through jellies, fish, squids, and beyond.

This food may also end up on our own dinner plates. Equally, it frequently winds up in the bellies of penguins, albatross, sea sunfish, leatherback turtles, and all manner of creatures who don’t reside in the deep sea.

It is a squid-eat-squid world down there, but it sure is interesting.  

This complex food web shows groups of creatures (signaled by different colored circles and lines) that were detected eating each other during MBARI remotely operated vehicle dives. Thicker lines indicate commonly detected predator/prey interactions. © 2017 MBARI

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