The open ocean: a world of mystery, terror, and the most bizarre forms of life. Humans have imagined and feared what lives below the waves since the days of Homer, and even with modern diving technology, we still do not fully know the answer.
Though no one has mapped out aquatic life in full, deep sea fishers have a strong sense of what lies under the sea, having reeled a variety of unusual and intriguing marine animals aboard their ships. One such fisher, Roman Fedortsov from northwestern Russia, recently decided to share his discoveries with the world, posting them in a series of tweets. His pictures provide a glimpse of subaquatic life, but fair warning: they aren’t for the faint of heart!
Scientists and explorers have long published photos of what they’ve found deep in the ocean, and the results often look like the stuff of nightmares. Take the angler fish, pictured here: if you could either swim with this or with a great white shark, I bet you’d choose the shark!
As terrifying as these images are, however, scientific photos are always somewhat detached. You can look at a picture in National Geographic and feel safe, knowing that these frightening fish are thousands of leagues away and miles below the ocean’s surface.
Fedortsov’s photographs disrupt that scientific barrier, exposing us directly to the terrors of undersea life. Here you can see him holding one of his discoveries by hand, with no separation between himself and an unknown creature. It’s hard to feel safe when you see someone so close to an unstudied and seemingly deadly form of life.
Granted, scientific photos create their own illusions of terror that Fedortsov’s tweets help to dispel. The fang tooth fish, for example, look like the deadliest animal in the world in professional photos, but here you can see it is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Terror is often just a matter of scale.
Still, fishers’ photos are enough to fuel the imagination for nightmares. This animal appears threatening enough on land, with its sharp, spindly teeth and yellow eyes. Now imagine what it would look like if it were alive, in its natural environment, and hungry!
In addition to inspiring fear, deep sea photos reveal forms of life that appear disgusting to our eyes. Pictured here is the blobfish, an animal that looks less like a living thing and more like a Jello sculpture of a human head. It’s a reminder that what we consider beautiful is by no means the standard for life.
Fedortsov found his share of grotesque animals, like the one pictured here. Whatever this is, it doesn’t look like a complete specimen— it’s as if the cartilage was ripped out of a larger fish and put on display.
You have to wonder what Fedortsov first thought when he pulled these creatures on board. When he saw this animal, did he think it was a shark? An eel? A carefully preserved specimen from the age of dinosaurs? And what made him decide to hold onto it, other than sheer curiosity?
Whatever prompted his decision, we should all be grateful. Thanks to Fedortsov, we now have clear images of just what is possible for life on this planet. What seem like monsters in a science fiction novel are in fact quite real, and we possess easy access to their images.
Of course, not all of Fedortsov’s images are bizarre, terrifying, or grotesque. Some of what he found look similar to normal fish, albeit with adaptations to help them survive at great depths. This is a reminder of just how versatile life is; two seemingly similar animals may have evolved for very different environments.
Some of these creatures don’t even look like they come from the ocean. If you saw this photo out of context, you might think it was a tropical spider, but you would never guess that it lives in the deepest depths of the ocean!
And of course, some of these creatures are truly beautiful, using colors and textures in new and surprising ways. If not for Fedortsov, these stunning specimens would remain unknown to us, with no light to illuminate them so far below the ocean’s surface.
Some sea creatures blur the lines between different forms of life. Take the sea cucumber, pictured here: it’s technically an animal, yet it has no sense organs, brain, or ability to feel. From a cognitive perspective, it’s no different than a plant.
Fedortsov uncovered his fair share of ambiguous life forms. The specimen pictured here could be plant, animal, or fungus by sight. Only scientists, through detailed study and rigorous definitions, could determine what category of life this strange creature falls into.
Fedortsov’s photos provide an opportunity to learn more about marine science. This fish, for example, wouldn’t look much different than a salmon or other shallow-water animal if not for the thick covering over its eyes. This gives us a clue as to the kind of adaptations necessary to survive at extreme depths.
Besides providing the opportunity for scientific speculation, these photos also allow ordinary people to learn basic facts about animals they otherwise wouldn’t have known. Most people know what rays look like from the top, but who knew they look like this below?
Extinction is usually final, but the ocean contains some species that carry on the legacy of otherwise defunct organisms. Take the goblin shark, pictured here: scientists believe it to be the sole survivor of a family of sharks that was around for 125 million years.
One wonders just how rare, and how old, the animals that Fedortsov found might be. The most unusual ones could well be the final members of otherwise extinct families, which would explain why we haven’t seen anything that looks like them.
Some of Fedortsov’s findings look less like sea creatures and more like land animals that ended up in the sea. This animal looks like a lemur that wandered into the ocean and decided to stay there. That may be a coincidence, but it’s a fascinating one.
Some of these animals provide good material for children’s stories. Imagine a tale about a rat that got lost, saw some water nearby, and chose to sprout gills and dive in. That may sound far-fetched, but how else would you explain this animal to a child?
Besides children’s stories, these animals could also inspire a good sci-fi adventure. What is the origin of this bright blue fish? Could it be an alien? The result of a nuclear waste spill? The possibilities are as endless as the author’s imagination!
Move over, Jaws; there’s a new undersea villain in town! Viewers won’t know what to make of a fish like this. Does it bite them? Poison them? Drag them to the bottom and drown them? The sheer uncertainty makes it the perfect subject of a horror blockbuster!
The ocean already has plenty of terrifying fish to assist the aforementioned villain in a horror movie. Take these hatchfish: anything that creepy deserves a prominent role in a horror tale, if not a movie of its own.
And of course, the ocean has no shortage of comedic images that are equally valuable for future films and artwork. An animal as bizarre as this could surely be the subject of a comedic cartoon— or perhaps a Frankenstein’s monster-esque mystery!
Though one must always be careful not to anthropomorphize animals, with some of these images, it’s hard to avoid it! This specimen looks positively annoyed that it was taken out of the water and put on display. Perhaps it would prefer to keep to its own habitat.
You have to admire Fedortsov for his bravery in handling some of these fish. Anything as slimy or gooey as this specimen must be hard to hold on to. Here’s hoping he had a supply of soap and hot water to wash up with afterward.
Some of these animals are beautiful in their simplicity. This fish has only large fins and a sleek, streamlined body. No doubt it’s a fast and versatile swimmer in its natural environment— making it all the more impressive that Fedortsov was able to catch it!
These photos do a good job of illustrating the scale at which life can exist. This fish appears complex and multifaceted, yet you can see that it’s small enough to fit between two of Fedortsov’s fingers. The human scale is clearly not the scale for all life.
As time goes on, we will likely learn more about the ocean, both through scientific research and accidental discovery. Recent reports of a giant, unknown fish washing onto the Mexican shore illustrate this point: even if we don’t seek out the ocean’s bizarre creatures, they will come to us!