Marine invertebrates, outnumbering fish ten to one, are the subject of Life episode "Creatures of the Deep," airing on the Discovery Channel April 4. Like the other entries in this excellent natural history documentary series, it will be available on DVD in late April. Again, startling images set this series apart from others.
When I think of six-foot tube worms (which I try not to do too often), my first reaction is “ewwwwwwww” not “aaaaahhhh.” Most of the invertebrates I’ve seen up close in nature exhibits and aquariums rate high on my yuckiness scale. Most of the deep sea denizens showcased in “Creatures of the Deep” do not trigger a gag response, though. The underwater cinematography that captures these creatures contrasted against a background of darkness brings their intricate structures to light. Animals are different when seen in their natural habitats compared to zoos and aquariums—not just their behavior, but how they look in relation to their environments. There is even a repulsive beauty to thousands of invertebrates of different species swarming over a dead seal at the bottom of the sea. Their feeding methods, though, are still pretty distasteful.
The marine invertebrates with which I have the most personal experience are introduced when Oprah says, “Take the jellyfish.” My skin crawls and I respond, “No, YOU take the jellyfish!” Oprah also tells us that jellyfish are carnivores, a reminder that those of us who have spent a lot of time in the Gulf of Mexico or at the New Jersey shore (as well as many other waters) don’t need. As much as I hate these “jellymonsters” (as named by my daughter), there is no satisfaction in seeing jellyfish besieged—and eaten—by their predators, which also happen to be jellyfish (with 20-foot long tentacles!). Jellyfish can be a spectacular sight. That is, until they wash up on the shore and expire. Dead jellyfish are one of nature’s more disgusting displays, one which we are spared here.
As for impressive displays, does anything compare to the Great Barrier Reef? The Reef is described as a 1200-mile long colony of microscopic living creatures. Actually, it covers over 133,000 square miles. Located in the Coral Sea it comprises nearly 3000 individual reefs and approximately 900 islands. It is both built by and composed of coral, and provides a home to many varieties of sea life. “Creatures of the Deep” details how reefs are formed, the specific conditions necessary to a reef, and the forms of life that inhabit it.
I have been enjoying Life for its intimate portraits of our earthly neighbors. I have learned things that I didn’t know and been reminded of things I’d forgotten. Will watching Life make you a better person? Define “better.” You may learn a few things and obtain a new understanding of how the natural world works. Since all things are connected, things we learn from nature are relevant to our lives, not only now, but also in the future. Life is not a comprehensive study of life; it is, however, an engaging series of brief lessons that better acquaint us with the world around us.