Water And Oceanography

Scavengers of the Deep Ocean Floor

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"Scavengers of the Deep Ocean Floor"
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Many creatures thrive in oceans waters. Some of them find their environmental niche in the deep ocean waters, an area that below 1000 fathoms. Very little or no light penetrates to this level, pressures can reach 1000 atms. In the past, not much was known about the life forms that live there, but current research has given scientists a great deal of new information about the species that reside at this level and their methods of survival.


Hagfish play an important part in the ecology of the deep ocean floor, eating decaying matter that falls to the bottom. They have only remnants of eyes, with small lenses and no retinas. They have an interesting defense mechanism that helps to protect them from predators. When under stress, they secrete large amounts of mucus, which forces the predator to give up their prey. This ability has given it the name “slime eel,” though it is not an eel at all. It is a scaleless fish, with a body that is made almost completely of cartilage.

Sleeper Sharks

The sleeper shark can reside in moderate to very deep ocean waters. It is actually a dogfish, with the same type of short, transverse jaws to grasp and kill even the toughest prey. Because food is often scarce in the deep sea environment, sleeper sharks are able to store large amounts in their capacious stomachs to hold them over to the next meal. Sleeper sharks eat a variety of deep sea species of fish and crustaceans and have also been found to feed on whale carcasses that fall to the ocean floor.

Lithodid Crabs

Scientists also find lithodid crabs at the deep levels of the ocean floor. These creatures are reddish in color, with long legs and spiney shells. They often feed on carrion that falls from upper levels, as well as small shrimp. One species of deep ocean crab cultivate bacteria on its claws that it eats.

Calanoid Copepods

Copepods are another species that inhabits the ocean floor. These tiny creatures include a diverse number of creatures that can live in freshwater habitats or hypersaline conditions. In the deep ocean, they feed on bacteria, plankton and algae that grow at the hydrothermal vents of the deep ocean. They also will feed on any dead matter that falls to the ocean floor.

Lyssianassid Amphipods

Amphipods are part of the family of crustaceans. They are commonly called “scuds” because of the way they scurry along. Lyssianassid amphipods are small shrimp-like creatures that scientists find in the oceans depths and have even been found in the frigid waters beneath Antarctica. They often scavenge on fallen whale carcasses or parts of fish that have deteriorated or have been pulled apart by larger creatures.


Macrourids are a family of deep sea fish that include rattails and grenadiers. Generally, they are large fish, weighing about XXX with large heads and long tapering tails. They are usually dark brown or gray in color, but sometimes may be black. They eat a number of small crustaceans and also scavenge carrion when it is present. Young macrourids start out in shallower waters and move to deeper levels as they mature.

The extreme conditions offer a challenging environment for the scavenger species of the deep ocean. Their study allows scientists to discover the many ways that life forms have evolved to utilize this environment to their benefit.

More about this author: J. Lang Wood

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/04deepscope/logs/aug9/aug9.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.elasmo-research.org/education/ecology/deepsea-pacific_sleeper.htm
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.soest.hawaii.edu/oceanography/faculty/drazen/fish%20pages/Macrouridae.htm