Ask a Scientist
Always keen to make science accessible for everyone, our colleague Dr Francis Neat recently contributed to a series of children’s books on ocean ecology. Dr Neat was approached only last week to answer some questions, posed by children through a school project, in the “Ask a Scientist” section. As a specialist in the habitat and ecology of deepwater fisheries Dr Neat said he was “very happy to be involved in this insightful series” and was thrilled to be asked to contribute.
The books, all relating to the ocean and its many wondrous creatures, are set for publishing early next year but we have a snippet of Dr Neat’s interview below.
Question 1: “What is your favourite deep-sea creature?”
There are many weird and wonderful creatures in the deep-sea, some cute-as-you-like, others hideously ugly, so it’s difficult to pick a favourite. However if I must pick one, it is the so-called ‘Sofa shark’ (scientifically known as Pseudotriakis microdon and shown in the picture above). It is a rather placid and otherworldly looking creature with a big mouth, small teeth and a flabby body. We very occasionally catch then around 1000 m down and they always cause a bit of stir when they come up from the depths. The last time we caught one, a picture of it went viral on the internet and even found its way into Newsweek.
It’s my favourite because the world is intrigued by it, but we know virtually nothing about it – and that’s why deep-sea science is so exciting!
Question 2: “Do you think the things people do in the ocean can hurt animals in the deep sea?”
Yes – there are a number of threats to deep-sea animals. Fishing can reach depths of 1500 m (one mile down) and bottom trawls can damage fragile corals and sponges that live on the deep-sea floor in some areas. Deep-sea mining is potentially a threat and needs to be very carefully done to avoid causing harm to deep-sea creatures and habitats. Litter and pollution is a problem – plastics, chemicals, oil spills and lost fishing gear can all threaten deep-sea life.
Question 3: “Are there sharks in the deep ocean?”
Yes – in fact there are about 350 different species of sharks that live permanently in the deep-sea. Furthermore, recent scientific studies show that shallow water sharks, like the great white shark and the basking shark, often visit the deep-sea for feeding. So sharks are very much at home in the deep-sea. The true deep-sea sharks are a very strange looking group and many have very peculiar feeding habits, e.g. the cookie-cutter shark takes bites out whales and dolphins. Another species, the sail-back shark eats mainly the egg-cases of other sharks and rays. Among the weirdest are the goblin shark with its bizarre nose, the frilled shark that is a living fossil from an age before the dinosaurs, and the Greenland shark that is thought to live to be 400 years old. Curiously, no sharks are found deeper than around 3600 m – nobody really understands why.