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Discovering Weird, Wonderful New Species in the Open Ocean

by Devin Reese -- Mar 16, 2015

Devin is the lead digital science writer for the Q?rius website. She writes and gathers media for the Smithsonian Science How? webcast series,...

The red paper lantern jellyfish, a strikingly beautiful animal in the web of midwater ocean life. Photo by Karen Osborn, Smithsonian Institution.
The red paper lantern jellyfish, a strikingly beautiful animal in the web of midwater ocean life. Photo by Karen Osborn, Smithsonian Institution.

When we think about the ocean, we may visualize sea turtles swimming around coral reefs, sea urchins anchored in tidepools, dolphins breaching the surface, or even shrimp gathered around deepwater sulfur vents. But most of the ocean is just open water, miles and miles of it from below the surface to thousands of feet down. This ocean midwater is the largest habitat on Earth! 

Yet midwater habitat has not been well-studied because it is difficult to explore. It's mostly cold, dark, and under high pressure. Some of its most surprising secrets are animals without backbones (invertebrates), such as worms and jellies, that come in a variety of weird colors and shapes. Many of these midwater species have never been recorded by science, challenging scientists to figure out what they are. 

Marine biologists use specialized equipment to find the open ocean's unique invertebrates . Remotely-operated vehicles, essentially robots controlled from ocean-going ships, provide a view of the mysterious world of suspended life. Using video cameras, water sensors, and unique collection equipment, zoologists catalogue and capture examples of organisms never before named. Some of these organisms rewrite what we know about the intricate web of ocean biodiversity.

Find out more by watching a “Smithsonian Science How” webcast video titled Ocean Biodiversity - Discovering Marine Invertebrates on the Q?rius website. Dr. Karen Osborn, an invertebrate zoologist at the National Museum of Natural History, will discuss and answer questions. Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.