#825 Eerie world of the sea

Octopus emerging from camouflage

Octopus emerging from his camouflaged state; photo clip from David Gallo’s TED talk

The sea is vital to life on the planet, yet its mysteries are seen by so few of us. One of the best ambassadors for the astonishing creatures at home in the watery world is David Gallo. He gives us new eyes in the water that covers 70 percent of the earth.

In his 1998 TED talk, with Bill Lange, Gallo shows footage made possible by an underwater robot. Gallo and Lange show strange creatures that look a bit like floating pink popcorn and jellyfish with shapes that will defy any image you have of the species. Lange says some of them are 140 to 160 feet long. They introduce other-worldly creatures that thrive on the bacteria emitted by hydrothermal vents. Gallo says it is almost like a 5-billion-year-long symphony, with endless cycles and rhythms.

In his 2007 talk Gallo introduces the light show produced by jellyfish and a creature that looks like a flying turkey. He shows us an octopus and a cuttlefish who are better at camouflage than any lizard and a squid who only shows his bright side to a potential mate. He says:

[T]oday we’ve only explored about 3 percent of what’s out there in the ocean. Already we’ve found the world’s highest mountains, the world’s deepest valleys, underwater lakes, underwater waterfalls….And in a place where we thought no life at all, we find more life, we think, and diversity and density than the tropical rainforest, which tells us that we don’t know much about this planet at all. There’s still 97 percent, and either that 97 percent is empty or just full of surprises.

In the latest talk, filmed in 2012, Gallo shows a river at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and talks about a mountain range in the middle of the sea that is 50,000 miles long, valleys wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon, a waterfall near Iceland that is the largest on the planet. He introduces Alvin, the submarine that makes deep, underwater exploration possible and holds out the exciting promise that one day we will be able to sit at our computers and explore the ocean ourselves. He ends with:

The oceans are unexplored, and I can’t begin to tell you how important that is because they’re important to us. Seven billion people live on this planet, and all of us are impacted by the sea because the oceans control the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat. All those are controlled in some way by the ocean, and this is a thing that we haven’t even explored five percent.

Gallo’s talks are visits to the most exotic countries we can ever visit, our oceans. We hear a lot these days about melting ice, rising sea levels, plastic pollution and acidification. Gallo’s talks give me hope that if more of us become awed by the creatures who make their home in the waters around us, we will learn to cherish and protect them.

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