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Collecting the deep sea animals of Monterey Submarine Canyon

Go behind-the-scenes with Stephanie Bush, postdoctoral fellow and expert on deep-sea cephalopods, as she dives down into Monterey Submarine Canyon via a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) camera. Her team is collecting some of the lesser-seen animals of the deep sea for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Tentacles exhibit.

“Many of these creatures are not rare in the deep sea,” she says. “They’re just rarely collected.”

The next challenge was keeping the animals alive after they reached the surface. The deep sea is almost pitch black, with crushing pressure, near-freezing water, little oxygen, and sparse food.

“We do the best we can to replicate an animal’s natural environment,” says [Aquarist Bret Grasse]. “In this case, we used data on oxygen concentrations, water temperature, and salinity collected by MBARI’s ROVs to help us figure out what conditions the animals need.”

…But keeping the animals alive was only half the battle—our aquarists also had to figure out how to display them. Inevitably, the animals are exposed to light (even though the exhibit is in a dimmed room) and occasional camera flashes (even though there are signs prohibiting this), as well as noise and vibrations from people.

In some cases, this means that deep-sea cephalopods only remain on exhibit for a few days at a time, before being returned to a nice dark, quiet tank in a back room. As Bret put it, “We’re always balancing the public’s desire to see these animals with what we think is best for the animals.”

Bonus surprise: one of the collected flapjack octopuses laid some tiny eggs in captivity, a process that researchers had never seen and know little about. They’re currently awaiting to see if and when the eggs might hatch.

In the archives: more cephalopods and mysterious deep-sea creatures.

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