10 jaw-dropping photographs of undersea life

by | Jul 17, 2019 | Photography

The seascapes of Ivan Aivazovsky or J.M.W. Turner, both Romantic painters from the 19th century, are unquestionably beautiful. They captivate and mesmerise the viewer. However, they fail to portray the true beauty and character of the sea, which lie deep under the waves, hidden from the eyes of most mortals.

From the image galleries of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, I have selected 10 of the most astounding photographs. Click on each one for a larger view. For more information about the NOAA oceanic expeditions, please visit the OER website. A wealth of stunning pictures and scientific knowledge awaits the curious.

Octocoral
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep-Sea Symphony: Exploring the Musicians Seamounts

A symphony of sights is constantly playing under the sea. These octocoral are gloriously beautiful like the the ‘Ode to Joy’ chorale in the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Comb Jelly
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana

No need for hallucinogenic drugs to experience the strange and beautiful. The marine animal known as the comb jelly can stupefy the observer with its gelatinous body and mind-boggling shape. It is no fantasy, however, but a living reality.

Jellyfish
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Windows to the Deep 2018

Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish surrealist painter, would probably have liked the image of this jellyfish. It seems out of this world, like a satellite floating silently in space against a giant tapestry of stars.

The coral, Chrysogorgia, under regular white light (left) and with bioluminescence (right)
Image courtesy of NOAA Bioluminescence and Vision on the Deep Seafloor 2015

These twin images of a coral pale in comparison with Vincent van Gogh’s iconic 1889 painting, The Starry Night. Nonetheless, they would have charmed the great Dutch post-impressionist artist. He loved the sea and nature in general.

A sea toad hanging out, waiting for its next meal to swim by, 2016
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deepwater Wonders of Wake

Steven Spielberg’s E.T. has some strong competition in the depths of the ocean — creatures that look weird, funny and adorable. 

Lophelia Coral
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Windows to the Deep 2019

The sea has its own forests made up of corals which provide food and shelter to countless living creatures. What if all the corals were to disappear? It would be as apocalyptic as the earth losing all its forests.

Hard Rock
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014

Some corals thrive even on a rocky seabed, a fact that may remind the religious-minded of the popular verse in the Bible: 

And why take ye thought for raiment?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they toil not, neither do they spin:

(Matthew 6:28, King James Version)

A shrimp and a squat lobster share the same soft coral host
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016

Creatures of the sea are either predators or preys. However, the undersea world is also characterised by peaceful co-existence and mutual benefit. The shrimp and lobster shown in this photograph have both found a home in a coral, which is like them a living animal. 

Dinner Plate Jelly (Solmissus)
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep-Sea Symphony: Exploring the Musicians Seamounts

This jellyfish was probably given its common name because of its dish-like body. But it could also be on account of the fact that the solmissus actively hunts for prey instead of waiting for plankton to pass by. It does not want its plate empty. 

Whitetip shark
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana

This shark seems more frightening than the one in ‘Jaws’, a 1975 American thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg. The tips of its fins are aglow due to the biochemical emission of light, a phenomenon seen in organisms such as fireflies, glow-worms and some deep-sea fish. 

~Barista Uno

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