Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Alien Colony

On a recent dive, deep, dark and cold, I swept my light beam into a sagging plywood cavern, the wreckage of a motorboat that was, month by month, sinking into the ocean-floor ooze. My light revealed a milky-blue, translucent life form--plant or animal, I couldn't tell.

Looking closer, I saw that the tubelike body was open at one end, and fixed to the plywood on the other; and that along the body was a second, smaller tube that contracted, jetting out water, if I touched it gently with the tip of a glove.

Down the center of the tube was a rod, a cylinder that appeared firmer than the gelatinous tube. The free ends of some tubes were flared out, as if the life form was grasping or sucking at the multitude of particles suspended in the water, ghosting silently by.

As I crept a little further under the plywood--trying to explore another two square yards of an immense ocean floor--suddenly my light illuminated not just another tube-form, but a garden of them. A whole colony!

Someone knows what these life forms are, but I don't, yet, and for the moment, I don't want to know. I want to think them through on my own. Are they filter-feeders? Do they change form, color, or anything else on a seasonal basis? Why do they live on the underside of the wreck, rather than atop it? What can I deduce about them, simply from their superficial form and whatever knowledge of basic biology I possess right now?

Photo of part of the colony, above, by Todd Olson.

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