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Insider Insights: Articles

Seven weird things we found under the sea

By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
Sunday, November 3, 2013, 6:18 PM

The treasures of the sea, living or otherwise, fascinate us. Every time someone finds something new, people are all over it.

Just this past week, we had stories featuring sea serpents (better known as giant oarfish) and the quest for Blackbeard's cannons on our website, and readers couldn't seem to get enough of them.

So we got to thinking, and when we looked into it, those stories weren't remotely the weirdest/coolest/scariest things to be found on the ocean floor.

From underwater temples (eh, sort of), terrifying monsters (well, we think they're terrifying) and ancient mysteries, here are seven of the most awesome finds.

An ancient shipwreck contained advanced machinery

When sponge divers off near Antikythera, Greece, back in the early 20th Century happened upon an old shipwreck, chock-full of statues and artifacts and suchlike, among the wreckage was what appeared to be a mechanical instrument.

Image: National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Image: National Archaeological Museum of Athens

With around 37 different gear wheels, it was a relatively advanced piece of machinery, including a type of differential type of gear roughly on par with 16th Century technology.

Which was kind of a problem for historians, because the shipwreck dated back to about a century or so before Christ, and the ancient Greeks and Romans were not supposed to know how that sort of technology worked.

Called the Antikythera Mechanism, the machinery baffles archaeologists to this day – it seemed to be some kind of analog computer, with accurate mechanisms for tracking the path of the sun, moon and solar system planets known to the Greeks.

There've been several expeditions to the site to try gather more info, including one by the renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, and another a couple years ago that yielded a treasure trove of new artifacts.

One theory is that the mechanism was a means to sort out the timetable of the original Olympic Games, which were held every four years until being cancelled for good by a fifth-century Roman emperor.

So the guys who didn't have widespread use of paper built a functioning calculator. Talk about uneven development.

Sunken national heritage? No problem. Just raise it right back up

After thousands of years of seafaring civilization, the sea floor is just littered with the remains of ships of all kinds, brimming with all manner of artifacts.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Gerry Bye

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Gerry Bye

The Mary Rose, an English warship built from the wood of around 600 oak trees, was just one such. The mammoth ship was the pride of the navy of Henry VIII, ruling the waves for 34 years before sinking in a battle against an enormous French fleet.

There’s a lot of debate still over exactly what sent it to the bottom. A popular theory is that the ship, overloaded after a recent refit, listed too far to the side during a stiff wind, enough for water to pour into the gunports, although there’s evidence a French cannonball may have done her in.

What’s not in dispute: How it got back to the surface.

Image: Mary Rose Trust

Image: Mary Rose Trust

Yep, the English, anxious to recover this vital piece of their heritage, straight up raised the ship’s remains from the sea floor in 1982, in one of the largest maritime archaeology feats in history. It took 27,800 dives (totaling 22,000 hours) just to prepare the hulk for the operation.

You can check out archival footage around a minute into this video:

The remains of the hull were taken to a special museum nearby, and underwent an extensive preservation process.

With the ship came 19,000 artifacts, from personal effects and food, to huge cannons loaded and ready to fire.

Image: Mary Rose Trust

Image: Mary Rose Trust

Just as valuable are the remains of the crew who perished (estimates of the number of men who went to the bottom range from 400 to 700, with less than 40 survivors). Check out this source for the work of a forensic specialist who reconstructed the faces and background of several of the crew.

Together, the hulk and artifacts are a treasure trove of insight into how people in Tudor England lived, worked and died, and you can totally go see them at the museum next time you’re across the pond.

There's a UFO/ancient structure/totally ordinary rock formation off in the Baltic Sea

This weird undersea thing, meanwhile (About 20 seconds into the video below), is not remotely a heritage object, unless you count the Millennium Falcon as being a part of your heritage (if you have to ask what the Millennium Falcon is, you shouldn't be on the Internet):

Diving exploration team Ocean X stumbled upon this weird formation on the sea bottom between Finland and Sweden back in 2011. It’s around 90 m down and around 60 m across.

They’ve made various trips back to it, including with a remote dive vehicle. In most interviews, they’re pretty coy about what it might be, leaving the door open to anything from UFOs, to volcanic structures, to underwater Stonehenge.

They have occasionally made weird claims like how electronic equipment shuts down nearby, or that specialized sonar scans appear to show corridors inside. They apparently sent a rock sample to an Israeli university, which turned up traces of iron oxides.

They’ve been making the rounds in the media, talking up the object and trying to raise funds for future expeditions:

We personally would love for the thing to actually be an alien spacecraft, but sadly, there’s a whole raft of plausible scientific explanations. Among them: A detached battleship turret, naturally occurring rock formations and glacial deposits.

And, of course, the team’s claims have been routinely criticized by actual scientists, including from the fact the original radar images are lousy and probably badly calibrated, and that they apparently pick and choose explanations to play up the mystique.

Still, if you’ve got some cash to spare, you could probably score a chance to see it in person. The team is trying to raise around 300,000 euros for a new expedition and, rather conveniently, its founder plans commercial tours.

This underwater feature kind of looks like a sunken temple

Image: Wikimedia Commons/jpatokal

Image: Wikimedia Commons/jpatokal

You don’t need any super-expensive submarines to explore the so-called “Yonaguni Monument,” in Japanese waters near Taiwan.

The oddly-architectural-looking underwater formation was found in the 1980s, and is a popular spot for divers (the freediver in the video below looks like he’s having all kinds of fun!).

Those sharp angles are exactly why the usual slew of theorists figure it must have been man-made, the remains of an ancient civilization that inhabited the area when sea levels were lower than they are presently (alternatively, it could be Cthulu’s summer getaway).

If you squint just right (as one Japanese researcher did), you can fancy seeing roads, a stadium, posts, and all sorts of “evidence” the site was home to a sophisticated society, and one or two scientists have remarked on how parts of the structure kind of look like indigenous buildings on nearby Yonaguni Island (this feature is known as "the Turtle:")

Image: Masahiro Kaji/Wikimedia Commons

Image: Masahiro Kaji/Wikimedia Commons

Trouble is, it’s even more likely the stones are a natural formation. Reading this account, you can tell the author desperately, desperately wants to believe the monument is man-made, but is forced to conclude the rock just formed that way (the area is also earthquake prone, which could account for the angular nature of the structure).

Stupid science, spoiling the party for everyone as usual. 

There are 400 concrete Mexicans under the sea

And here’s what’s on the sea bottom somewhere off the coast of Cancun, Mexico:

IMAGE: Jason deCaires Taylor

IMAGE: Jason deCaires Taylor

Four hundred sculptures – cement casts, to be exact – of local people who posed for artist Jason deCaires Taylor. He and his team laboured for a year, churning out ten casts a week, which were then taken out to sea and lowered, one by one, into place.

Even just looking at the pictures, you can see their special kind of beauty, a unique mix of tranquil and downright creepy, but they’re not just for show. The artist intends for them to serve as hosts for an artificial coral reef (they’re made of an extra-hard, neutral pH concrete that’s supposedly ideal for that purpose).

Coral decline is a problem worldwide, a blow to native ecosystems as well as nations that rely on tourism. The hope is the statues, nestled in one of the world’s few subaquatic parks, can nurture new reefs, possibly drawing enough snorkelers away from existing reefs to reduce interference and allow them to recover.

Image: Jason deCaires Taylor

Image: Jason deCaires Taylor

That installation, called “Silent Evolution,” opened up in 2010, but Taylor already had practice. A number of his sculptures dot the sea bed near the Caribbean island of Grenada:

"Vicissitudes" Image: Jason deCaires Taylor

That location is the first-ever underwater park, opened in 2006. You can check out what’s on display here.

This squid is enormous, and there's probably lots of them

Believe it or not, this car-sized terror from the deep is not actually the Kraken:

Image: New Zealand Ministry of Primary Fisheries

Image: New Zealand Ministry of Primary Fisheries

We find it hard to believe also, but yeah, it’s just your average, run-of-the-mill colossal squid, known about for more than a century but rarely seen.

THERE'S MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM! Jaclyn Whittal takes a look at the ugliest critters in the sea.

This one in particular is actually a little smaller than the species’ maximum size. The crew of a trawler hauled it up from more than 2,000 m below the surface, stubbornly gnawing on the toothfish that was the anglers’ intended catch back in 2007. It was the first time anyone had reported catching one alive, although it died soonafter.

Image: New Zealand Ministry of Primary Fisheries

Image: New Zealand Ministry of Primary Fisheries

At the time, it was thought to be 10 m long, but after taking it to the Museum of New Zealand, it turned out to be only a paltry 4 m or so.

That’s well, well short of the 14 m they’re believed to reach in their natural deep sea habitat, but no one has ever seen a full-grown one – scientists measured tentacles and beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales and extrapolated up to a theoretical, terrifying maximum.

Their eyes are the size of footballs, their beaks are enormous, their tentacles come equipped with large hooks – and based on the fact they appear to make up more than three quarters of sperm whales’ diet, there’s probably a heck of a lot them. It’s just that they live a couple thousand metres down, so you’re almost never likely to actually encounter a living one.

And you know what? That suits us juuuuuuuust fine.

This fish is 400 million years old

Far less terrifying is this ugly beastie, the coelacanth:

Image: Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, South African Institute for Aquatic Biology

Image: Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, South African Institute for Aquatic Biology

It’s biggish (about 2m in length), but completely harmless. So what’s it doing on this list? Well, when it was dredged up by a trawler off the shore of South Africa in 1938, it was supposed to be several million years extinct.

It has remained virtually unchanged for more than 400 million years, a literal living fossil with fins that are a few DNA strands away from being functional limbs. Scientists say it’s a significant step on the ladder linking aquatic life, and the first vertebrates to crawl onto land.

Two different species of coelacanth have been found so far - and, less than a century after their discovery, both are endangered (the Indonesian variety is vulnerable, and the Indian Ocean type is critically endangered).

ENDANGERED SPECIES: Writer Cheryl Santa Maria features some of the world's most endangered species every week. The latest was the whooping crane.

Image: Amelia Guo/Sea World Indonesia

Image: Amelia Guo/Sea World Indonesia

That’s due to human activity, and the worst part is, it’s not even intentional. Nobody fishes coelacanth for food (they’re oily and taste nasty), they just end up getting snared in trawler nets.

The Indonesian coelacanth does enjoy some protection by the government, but in the Indian Ocean, conservation efforts are just now getting underway.

So the 400-million-year-old living fossil went from discovery to being accidentally driven to near oblivion in less than a century. We’re getting way too good at this endangered species thing.

Think we missed one? Let us know in the comments!

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