“The sea has always challenged the minds and imagination of men and even today it remains the last great frontier of Earth. It is a real so vast and so difficult of access that with all our efforts we have explored only a small fraction of its area.”
– Rachel Carson, 1960 (and yet still so relevant today)
We have long tradition with the sea, we have tales of sailors and fisherfolk and folklore and myths but most of these centre around the point where water meets sky, the ocean surface. We follow characters which, for a moment, find themselves in the disconcerting world beneath the waves. We may even be dragged into the empire of mermaids and sea gods but we rarely note what we pass, rarely stay any time in the gap between sea floor and waves. And what a gap it is. It seems that only in the past few years have writers started to explore this amazing realm.
Scientific advances and the ability to visit new parts of the ocean have filtered through into literature and yet our imaginations cannot do justice to the fantastical organisms that have lived blissfully unaware of humans until very recently.
For a taste of the weird world that lies beneath the surface:
- Cat fish have about 100,000 tastebuds, humans have about 10,000…
- Some fish contain ‘anti-freeze’ and others create electricity
- A narwhal tusk has about 10 million nerve endings
- Male lobsters wee on each other to settle territorial disputes
- An ocean sunfish can lay up to 300 million eggs in one batch
- Jellyfish nap
- and apparently herring communicate by farting…
As well as being interesting and extending human curiosity and imagination, the sea is also filled with organisms which can inspire scientists through to poets.
The ocean may hold answers to some of the problems and issues we are facing. There may be clues to help us cure cancer and species which can help us generate new drugs to help in the fight against antibiotic resistant diseases. We know there are deep sea snails with iron clad shells and that limpet teeth are made from the strongest (known) natural substance on the planet. How useful could this natural talent be to our scientists, our engineers, our artists…
But more importantly, perhaps, we can learn to value and respect creatures so unlike ourselves, who live in realms we can barely even look into safely. Perhaps by turning to the seas, we can learn more about our own humanity.