Above is the trailer for a gorgeous film called Deep Sea IMAX, released in 2007. Filmed by the award-winning ocean filmmaker Howard Hall and narrated in turns by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, the stunning footage highlights many incredible denizens of the ocean, many of which are so unfamiliar to those who spend their lives on land that they might as well be from another planet.
Some of the more memorable creatures include the sunstar, pulling itself across the ocean floor with surprising speed in search of food and scaring up clouds of feather stars and scallops which flee from its blind hunger; the wolf eel crushing sea urchins to bits between its powerful jaws, apparently heedless of their long venomous spines; the aggressive Humboldt squid, which flash like strobe lights in the night as they attack everything in sight including one another and even the camera a few times; the Giant Pacific octopus, curling its tentacles into tight coils as it glides ominously over the sea bottom in search of crabs; the energetic Mantis shrimp, tenaciously fighting off a much larger octopus; the strange and graceful nudibranchs; and translucent jellyfish of all descriptions. As memorable as the colorful images are the sounds the creatures make as they move about and engage in their activities (often violent).
After watching some of these exotic animals in their natural habitat, it is intriguing to think that even now giant sunstars are creeping across the ocean floor looking for prey, as are many of the other stars of the deep sea.
One of the most astonishing parts of the film comes towards the end, when the cameras capture a coral spawn in the Flower Garden Banks, located in the Gulf of Mexico. We are told that this takes place every year, eight days after the full moon in August, beginning one hour after sunset. The imagery is spectacular, as millions of coral polyps release tiny gametes into the water, like clouds of baby spiders floating into the sky -- and the otherworldly music of Danny Elfman enhances the effect. The narration asks:
How is it that millions of tiny polyps from all these corals choose this single moment on this single night to spawn? How do animals that have no eyes to see, or brains to think, coordinate this event with such precision?
Apparently, scientists only discovered this stunning aspect of coral's life cycle fairly recently, in the early 1980s, and they are still trying to learn more about it. This article from the Smithsonian Magazine from 2009 describes the work marine biologists are doing to study the coral and their reproduction habits, as they try to determine ways to protect coral against the serious threats they face from unchecked seaweed and algae growth (running wild due to overfishing of the species that would normally keep them in balance), and from increased acid levels in the water due to pollution (acid acts to dissolve the calcium carbonate that the coral secrete to form reefs).
This article, from an Australian website entitled Deep Sea Divers Den gives even more insight into the mysterious ability of the coral to coordinate their spawning with the full moon. Citing coral researcher Associate Professor Bette Willis from James Cook University, the article explains that scientists now think that the reason coral wait to spawn for a certain number of days after a full moon is that this period produces a neap tide, in which the swings between tidal levels are much more mild than during a spring tide, giving the coral spawn a better chance to succeed. Some of the intricacies of the tidal mechanisms caused by the motion of the sun and the moon are discussed in this previous post.
We should certainly be in awe of the ability of these tiny creatures to coordinate their spawn without, as Johnny Depp says, "eyes to see, or brains to think." It is yet another example of the influence of the moon and the other celestial bodies upon beings here on this planet.
Is it too difficult to believe that the phases of the moon and the angles of the other planets in our solar system might have an impact on our own bodies and minds as well? We have discussed this possibility in previous posts such as this one. It is a concept which was accepted by most ancient cultures, but which is often dismissed as "superstition" or worse by many today.
Perhaps if we were more attuned to the cycles of the world around us and the greater cosmos, we would not have drifted so far out of harmony from the oceans and the rest of nature, and the coral reefs and other vital and incredibly beautiful aspects of our planet would not be in such peril.