Creatures in the Depths Off Australia Offer Insight Into the Way We See

Having just returned from the beach myself, this story particularly caught my attention this morning. Not to mention that, for about two years during my elementary school education, I was convinced I would become an oceanographer or a marine biologist. I was obsessed with dolphins, and did a rather snazzy presentation on echolocation in the fifth grade.

Granted, these days I’m far from a marine biologist (though I do write a great deal about squid), but it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve lost my love of all things aquatic. And I’m continually astounded by vastness of the oceans here on Earth, and how often scientists and marine experts unearth new, unusual, horrific, and beautiful creatures. For someone who’s always had a thing for science fiction and fantasy, I’m absolutely taken by the way these creatures look and act—so alien and so familiar. But what’s even more surprising is how, by studying these weird and wonderful animals, we can learn more about ourselves.

National Geographic has a great slideshow of some of the more unusual fish (and other creatures) they’ve captured on film during their Deep Australia Project, including a recent snapshot of a sixgill shark, which is essentially a living fossil. The sixgill shark pictured is approximately 13 feet (4 meters) long, and can see in the dark. Some sixgills can grow up to 1320 lbs (600 kg). Move over, Jaws. You’ve got some competition.

One of the aims of the Deep Australia Project, according to National Geographic, is to learn more about the evolution of human sight. By studying these creatures and their unusual methods of seeing (some of which see by feeling, for instance), many of which have evolved in curious ways, researchers believe they can learn more about how we perceive things visually. How different are these marine eyes from ours? Well, take the nautilus as an example: their eyes have no lenses and work like a pinhole camera, and it’s theorized that their eyes haven’t evolved for millions of years, thereby giving scientists a window into steps in the evolutionary process. In the long run, researchers hope to shed light on not just the evolution of human sight but also into illnesses and brain disorders in humans.

Seems rather lovely, in a way, that the visual representations of these creatures are what get our attention, when that’s at the very heart of this important research.

[Images: National Geographic; top: Periphilla Jellyfish, bottom: sixgill shark getting some noms]

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