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A Brief History of Deep Sea Exploration

As a species, we are driven by a desire to understand and make sense of the universe around us. We identify and classify every animal we find, we have landed people on the moon and sent probes into deep space to uncover the secrets of the cosmos. We have photographed the surface of other planets, and witnessed our own blue planet as a speck in the distant infinity of space.


Despite all this, we still have explored just 5% of Earth’s oceans. Most of that knowledge lies in shallow waters, while the depths beneath remain a mystery. To this day, we have caught only glimpses of the weird and wonderful life that thrives in the sunless world of bottomless trenches, and endless deserts punctuated with islands of activity. Every discovery challenges and re-builds our understanding, from phenomena like deep sea gigantism driving unique adaptation in deep sea life, to alien-like ecosystems, full of life-forms unlike any others we have encountered.

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Why Should We Explore the Deep Sea?

Why Should We Explore the Deep Sea?


We only began our journey of discovery in the deep in recent times, as exploring these harsh conditions requires highly advanced technology that simply wasn’t available to us until now. But people have been enchanted by this peculiar other world for centuries. Throughout history, tales of sea serpents and monsters have captivated the minds of all who journey out among the unforgiving waves. There is a distinct sense of wonder that the endless, bottomless ocean evokes, but this comes with a sense of fear. For many, the depths represent a realm of darkness, silence, and death. But when we peer closer, we find that it is in fact a place of beauty and mystery, where creatures come in spectacular shapes and unimaginable sizes, and divergent evolution has forged species that are unlike anything we have found elsewhere.


In 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan attempted to measure the depth of the Pacific Ocean. He cast a 2,400-foot weighted line into the sea, but it did not touch the bottom.


200 years later, in 1818, explorers first captured worms and jellyfish from a depth of around 2,000 meters (6,550 feet), offering up the very first evidence for deep sea life.


But the idea that the deep sea was too harsh and barren to support life, persisted even then. In 1842, naturalist Edward Forbes proposed the Abyssus Theory, in which he stated that biodiversity decreases with depth, and that life cannot exist deeper than 550 meters (1,800 feet). As we have found in recent years, he couldn’t have been further from the truth.


In 1850, further evidence to challenge his theory arose, when a rich and abundant ecosystem was discovered by biologist Michael Sars, thriving at 800 meters (2,600 feet)