Less than a Fifth of Deep-Sea Life Is Identifiable

Hakai Magazine –

Nine hundred hours of deep-sea video footage has revealed a lot about how little we understand the abyssal ocean. Researchers scrutinizing the footage, taken around Pacific islands such as Hawai‘i, have concluded that they only recognize roughly a fifth of the creatures caught on the recordings.

The research, presented at a scientific meeting in San Diego, California this week, gives a clear sense of just how mysterious the deep sea really is. “There’s a lot left to discover,” says biologist Randi Rotjan of Boston University in Massachusetts, who coauthored the work.

It’s an often-quoted (and very true) statement that we have better maps of the moon than we do of the ocean floor. But quantifying just how mysterious the deep sea is is tricky. Most previous studies, says Rotjan, have focused on discovering new species or surveying smaller areas, and it’s hard to compile broad statistics on deep-sea life from lots of little studies done with different methodologies.

The new report is based on data from the CAPSTONE project, an epic campaign led by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the seafloor around western and central Pacific islands. From 2015 to 2017 the scientists mapped 597,230 square kilometers, documenting an area bigger than California, though still less than half a percent of the total Pacific Ocean.

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