Monday, December 03, 2007

Davy Jones's locker

At the New York Review of Books, Tim Flannery has an extraordinarily lovely piece about two new books on the vasty deep (I must get those books, I am having an underwater obsession these days). It is a must-read, you will be enchanted, but I will paste in a few paragraphs just to make sure you see the allure:
In what might be called the oases of the deep, life takes on a very different appearance. Among the most interesting and little known of such oases are the seamounts. These places are, as their name suggests, mountains in the sea, and because currents speed up as they pass over and around them, bringing nutrients closer to the surface, here there is a greater availability of food. Mention corals and most of us think of tropical reefs, but the seamounts are home to an astonishing variety of corals that never see the light of day. Known as black, golden, and red corals, the bony skeletons of these organisms are considered gemstones. But who, wearing such gems, is aware that they come from coral forests that can reach sixty meters in height, and support an abundance of life that rivals a tropical rainforest?

The life supported by these coral forests ranges from the exquisite to the nightmarish. Red and white crabs crawl through the coral glades, as do medusa sea-stars, their arms twining restlessly like miniature serpents. And at the very bottom of some seamounts in the Pacific Ocean can be found the blobfish. This creature, with its pale, floppy flesh, comical W.C. Fields–like nose, piggy eyes, and broad, downturned mouth complete with "cigar," looks like a cartoon character. Its "cigar" is in fact a parasitic crustacean known as a copepod, but no one knows what the blobfish does with its comical nose.
Here's the Amazon link to Claire Nouvian's The Deep--I have already shopping-carted it, because it seems like an extremely sensible and affordable way to take a science-fictional trip to another planet...

Update: A public-spirited commenter provides an excellent link to pictures of deep-sea species. The photographic evidence more than supports the lovely description provided above:


  1. After that description I had to find a photo of a blobfish -- and here it is and the description seems perfect to me.

  2. I'm obsessed with the underwater world, too. I might be frustrated reading about it without images -- I remember watching a PBS special a few years ago that left me rattled it was so intriguing/creepy/almost spiritual -- but these books sound worth a look.

  3. Apologies. I followed the Amazon link and see now that it has plenty of images. I'm putting it on my Christmas list. Thanks.

  4. The publisher of The Deep, the University of Chicago Press, has a substantial gallery of photos on its website for the book.

  5. That thing looks like Ziggy at 70.

  6. Oh how very exciting - I'll have to check this one out.