Alexander Semenov, a marine biologist, underwater photographer, as well as the head of the divers’ team in the Moscow State University’s White Sea Biological Station has been able to tale thousands upon thousands of photographs of rare creatures in the deepest parts of the sea. While majority will never experience swimming with these deep-sea animals in their natural habitant, Semenov has generously shared his captured images, knowledge and experience with the public.
An exceptional creature he discovered while swimming under the ice of the White Sea, which is located on the northwest coast of Russia is the Sea Angel. Ironically, while this tiny and translucent creature flaps its wings to cut across the water at a slow pace, it also has two visible horns atop its body. Seeing this sea animal float in the dark, much like a beautiful and interesting alien in a science fiction movie gives off an ethereal and surreal experience.
Sea angels, scientifically known as Gymnosomata are actually a large group of very tiny, free-floating sea slugs that have a transparent, jelly-like body with wings called parapodia. They are found in both polar regions and the tropics, though those living in cold waters grow significantly bigger than those found in tropical temperatures.
The largest species of this family is the naked sea butterfly (Clione limacina) which grows up to 5cm in length. They’re mouths are similar to those of mollusks, and their tentacles are used to grab their prey, sometimes with suckers that are similarly found on cephalopods as well. Their wing speed can go as fast as 100mm/s (0.22 mph) which is twice the speed of their favourite prey, the sea butterfly.
These angels are simultaneous hermaphrodites. They already have either a complete or partial reproductive system which produces gametes in both the male and female sexes. Fertilization happens internally, and when this occurs, they will get close to their mate and turn their reproductive organs inside-out to attach them to each other with a sucker.
In the mating process, the couple spins and floats in a slow motion dance for about four hours long, even stopping for a meal in between. When the fertilization is finished, they spawn a gelatinous egg mass which just floats about until they are ready to hatch. The shells shed in a few days time, and a new generation comes to life.
Only around 236,000 marine organism species have been discovered in the last 2000 years, says Semenov. Scientists have estimated that this only amounts to about 8-10% of the total living creatures living in the depths of the world’s oceans, which leaves about 2-3 million species still yet to be discovered and studied.
“The World Ocean is as close as you can get to outer space without leaving Earth. It’s an entirely different universe, nothing like the life we have on land. And while people dream about alien life forms from other planets, there is another universe right here, closer than anyone expects. As a marine biologist and underwater photographer, I have been studying and documenting this world for more than 10 years, organizing expeditions to the far-off corners of the planet, spending days and weeks under the polar ice, giving lectures, teaching classes at schools, writing books and making movies with a whole team of great people involved in my own project «Aquatilis»,’’ a excerpt seen on Semenov’s website, www.coldwater.science
Semenov’s passion for all deep-sea creatures living in our oceans is definitely undeniable.
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