January 23, 2018

What Eats What: a Landlubber’s Guide to Deep Sea Dining

What Eats What: a Landlubber’s Guide to Deep Sea Dining

You’ll never go to dinner in the deep sea. It’s dark, vast and weird down there. If the pressure alone didn’t destroy your land-bound body, some hungry sea creature would probably try to eat you.

Fortunately for you, something else has spent a lot of time down there, helping to prepare this guide to deep sea dining.

For nearly three decades, robots with cameras deployed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have crawled along the ocean floor off the coast of central California at depths as deep as two and half miles below.

Cameras on these remotely operated vehicles captured the feeding habits of anything that didn’t flee them. They revealed 242 unique feeding relationships comprising 84 different predators and 82 different prey items. Building on prior research using other methods, these videos enhance understanding of the deep sea food web, particularly the jelly dishes and diners.


A remotely operated underwater vehicle, or R.O.V., deployed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which captured images of underwater creatures devouring each other — at least, those that didn’t flee it.

Anela Choy/Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

It was once thought that these wobbly mounds of water were not worth being eaten. But thanks to the cameras mounted on the researchers’ underwater probes — and elsewhere on penguins, monk seals and sea turtles — we now realize that gelatinous animals aren’t just ravenous predators invading the ocean, but major food items in a complex web of interactions.

You’re probably more familiar with that web as a chain, ending in the tuna on your dinner plate. That beautiful hunk of red meat was once a top predator. But if it weren’t for the food web deep under the ocean — a whole collection of crustaceans, worms, fish, jellies and squids feasting on one another miles below the fishing boat that caught your tuna — there’d be no food to forage and no tuna to catch.

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