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Wonders of the Deep, Chapter VI, Denizens of the Deep, Fish Life in the West Indian Ocean. The Williamson Submarine Expedition encounters an incredible variety of fish: Different breeds and an array of beautiful colours.

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A denizen of the deep

ALL those who have made a study of the denizens of the deep have been struck with the indescribable diversity and beauty of ocean life. The innumerable specimens that adorn our museums afford some idea, however limited in range, of the colour, form, size, and variety of the creatures that exist in the sea, but hitherto no one has been in a position to study oceanic life in its actual environment, to observe the different creatures seeking for their food, or to watch them fighting their grim battles below the surface of the water.

It is almost impossible to imagine the varieties of form and colour that exist. The brilliant hues which we associate with equatorial bird life seem to have been transmitted to the West India fishes. Here are a few of the many variegated colours: sky blue, deep indigo blue, yellow, blue and black bars, scarlet and crimson, red, plain, dull, and drab colours, dark hued and almost black stripes, recalling the zebra's coat, zigzag bars and stripes, and spots of all shades. In fact, it is practically impossible to think of any colour or any combination of colours that are not to be found exhibited by one form of ocean life or another.

"The ocean in its profoundest depths - its plains, its mountains, its valleys, its precipices - is animated and beautified by the presence of innumerable organised beings", writes Louis Figuier. "Among these we find the algæ, solitary or social, erect or drooping, spreading into prairies, grouped in patches, or forming vast forests in the ocean valleys. These sub marine forests protect and nourish millions of animals which creep, which run, which swim among them; others, again, sink into the sands, attach themselves to rocks, or lodge themselves in their crevices; these construct dwellings for themselves; they seek or fly from each other; they pursue or fight, caress each other lovingly, or devour each other without pity. Charles Darwin truly remarks somewhere that our terrestrial forests do not maintain nearly so many living beings as those which swarm in the bosom of the sea. The ocean, which for man is the region of asphyxia and death, is for millions of animals the region of life and health; there is enjoyment for myriads in its waters; there is happiness on its banks."

The majority of the deep sea animals live by eating the mud, clay, or ooze, or by catching the minute particles of organic matter that fall from the surface. Many of the mud eating species are of gigantic size when compared with their allies living in the coastal waters, and they themselves become in turn the prey of numerous rapacious animals armed with prehensile and tactile organs. Some fishes are blind, while others are endowed with very large eyes.


Louis Figuier

Charles Darwin

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