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Otherworldly photos of the deep sea

by Alicia Delay

Roughly 70 per cent of our planet’s surface is under water, and yet, according to scientists, we know more about the moon than the ocean floor. Here are 25 otherworldly images of the unique creatures, sunken wrecks, underwater art, and other surprising things that can be found in the world hidden beneath the waves.

Wreck of the “USAT Liberty”

During World War II, the USAT Liberty was beached after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, on the island of Bali, Indonesia. A volcanic eruption in 1963 moved the ship from the beach into the water. Today, the sunken vessel is a popular site for divers hoping to spot tropical fish, turtles, and other sea creatures who call the wreck home.

Walk, don’t swim

The blob-like hairy frogfish derives its common name from the “hairy” spines that cover its body. This bizarre-looking creature, found in warm waters around the globe, doesn’t swim. Instead, it walks on its wide fins, grabbing a snack from the sea bottom.

Drifting like a weed

Weedy sea dragons are found in the waters off southern and eastern Australia, where they happily “tumble and drift in the current like seaweed.” These small sea creatures are not much bigger than a teacup.

Bright colours in the dark

Bigfin reef squid, which live in warm coastal waters near reefs, sea grass beds, sandy bottoms, and rocky shorelines, can change their body colour and pattern in a flash.

As cute as a…slug

It may be a slug (a sea slug, to be exact), but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful! Bullock’s Hypselodoris uses its brilliant colours (derived from the food it eats) to ward off predators and secretes acid to deter unwanted attention.

In a brighter world

Linckia laevigata or blue staris one of the roughly 2,000 types of sea stars that live in the ocean. Here in the Philippines, a star sits on a block of coral, topped by a yellow feather star. Feather stars date back 200 million years and may outlive us as they seem to be thriving in our warming oceans, unlike corals.

Trash or treasure?

It’s not uncommon for governments to toss big pieces of trash — subway cars, ships, airplanes — into the ocean and hope they turn into artificial reefs that create new homes for sea life. While some of these items work well, others, like tires, do not. In Florida, one attempt to dispose of large numbers of tires in the ocean backfired, as the tires were carried by the currents, destroying the marine life they encountered.

A coral “hand”

Soft leather coral cups a little egg cowrie in its “hand” at Sabang Beach in the Philippines. These curious-looking creatures mainly venture out at night and are believed to be territorial.

Giant clams

The world’s largest mollusks, giant clams can reach up to 1.2 metres (four feet) in length, weigh more than 225 kilograms (500 pounds), and live over 100 years. No, they don’t feast on swimmers. However, these carnivores do eat a steady diet of algae that live within their tissues.

Flying through the water

At first glance, this swarm of spotted eagle rays looks like a flock of birds flying through the blue sky. And yet, they’re swimming over the sandy bottom of the Great Barrier Reef. These active swimmers do not lie motionless on the sea bottom, but rather forage for prey near coral reefs and bays.

Bright and beautiful

This striking sea slug is sure to catch your eye, if you happen to be swimming at the bottom of the Western Indian Ocean.

Bright but deadly

Sea slugs are found in waters from the east coast of Africa to Australia, typically on coral reefs where they feed on sponges. Like other nudibranchs, these shell-less creatures are highly toxic.

Batfish crazy

These stunning swimmers swarm in schools in reefs and bays off the shores of Australia, New Zealand, East Africa, the Red Sea, and elsewhere. The teira batfish is popular as an aquarium fish.

A container ship comes to life

Sha’ab Abu Nuhas, a coral reef in the northern Red Sea, is a navigation hazard. That may be bad for seafarers, but it’s great for wreck divers who enjoy exploring shipwrecks like this container ship that’s now teeming with underwater life.

The “Blue Plunder”

An old tugboat dubbed the Blue Plunder in a naming contest was sunk by a BBC film crew off the coast at Nassau, Bahamas, in 2007 to study the colonization of artificial reefs for the series Life. Since its sinking, the little boat has been “coming alive” with corals and reef fish.


At the Sugar Wreck site off Grand Bahama Island, a hot spot among divers for its abundance of fish life, schooling yellow French grunts (so named due to their ability to make a grunting sound by grinding their teeth) match the surrounding yellow pillar coral reaching up like fingers.

An unearthly space

The SS Thistlegorm in Egypt’s Red Sea was sunk in 1941 by two German bombers. Loaded with all kinds of equipment — including trucks, jeeps, and tanks — the vessel now serves as an underwater museum full of WWII artifacts for divers to explore. The wreck is also home to schools of fish such as the Vanikoro sweeper.

Honouring lives lost at sea

Off the coast of Florida’s Key Largo stands a 2.7-metre-tall (nine-foot-tall) bronze statue of Christ of the Abyss, about eight metres (25 feet) below the water’s surface. Divers and snorkelers are free to take selfies with the statue but are cautioned not to put their arms around it, as it’s covered in stinging fire coral.

Guarding the reef

The watery depths surrounding Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands are presided over by the Guardian of the Reef, a four-metre (13-foot) bronze merman who stands in 20 metres (65 feet) of water. Created by artist Simon Morris, the statue reminds visitors of the importance of “environmental awareness and stewardship.”

The Eight Immortals

In Chinese religion and folk culture, the Eight Immortals are said to be based on real historical people who represent health, prosperity, and good fortune. Divers can swim among their ethereal sculpture representations in Lingshui County, Hainan Province, China.

The lonely lionfish

A lone lionfish moves among the fish-filled waters of the SS Thistlegorm in Egypt’s Red Sea. This award-winning shot was taken by British diver and photographer Alex Tattersall.

Flying the blue…waters

Divers were delighted when this Douglas DC-3 was deliberately sunk off the coast of Turkey to serve as an underwater playground. “Looming out of the darkness,” the plane acts as an artificial reef, attracting marine wildlife.

A solitary soul

A solitary scorpionfish sits atop the sunken Salvatierra in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. This bottom-dwelling fish is highly skilled at blending with its surroundings, making it an “excellent ambush predator.” The scorpionfish is also one of the most poisonous creatures in the ocean.

Masters of camouflage

A close cousin of the scorpionfish, the stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. Using its dorsal fin spines, it injects a venom that can kill an adult human within an hour. Its prey, its predators, and even divers often fail to spot these fish as they sit perfectly still on the sea bottom, waiting for dinner to waltz by.

The ancient jellyfish

Jellyfish date back to the time before the dinosaurs, thriving in waters warm and cold. They can be clear, bioluminescent, or a myriad of vibrant colours, such as pink, yellow, blue, or purple. These ancient creatures have no brain, heart, bones, or eyes. Their unique bodies simply sting their prey with their tentacles to stun or paralyze it before consumption.



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