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The Deep Sea (neal.fun)
703 points by Yuval_Halevi 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

This is beautiful, thanks. Why not linking the creatures to their English Wikipedia pages to get curious folks more background? Wikimedia Foundation employee here in private comment. Just learnt the first time about the Leatherback Sea Turtle here.

This kind of content reminds me of Microsoft Encarta. It would be really neat if there were lots of visualizations and interactive educational sites that shared many links to Wikipedia, and have them all compiled somewhere on some Wikimedia page.

Same here, after I wrote my comment, my next thought was what ways there could be enabled to have similar content on Wikimedia projects. The rules around Wikipedia projects (encyclopedic content, an article content narrated along an axis, as in meters here) and moderation are the hurdles from my POV. But then again, maybe it's simpler/better to have folks taking free content, putting it in a narration on their sites and linking back to Wikipedia as part of distributed Web.

Wikimedia projects are not limited to strictly encyclopedic stuff. A visualization about the deep sea could easily be allowed on Wikiversity, which is intended for miscellaneous educational material that doesn't easily find its way elsewhere. The biggest obstacle would be technical.

+1 for this. Clicking the fish open in a new tab for there Wikipedia page.

I wonder what prevents a fish that goes down to 100 meters from going down to 300 meters or 3000 meters. Does it feel an internal pressure that tells it to not dive further, or is it the amount of light or availability of food it seeks? Since fish wouldn't suffer from decompression sickness, I wonder if they could dive much deeper if they wanted to.

Now that I think about it, I've scuba dived to 130 feet and it didn't feel any different to me than being at 10 feet. The only reason I didn't go deeper is because the depth gauge, divermaster, and training told me not to go deeper, and not because I was feeling the pressure.

Your question is a bit vague, but for most fish species, "pressure detection uses the organ of Weber, a system consisting of three appendages of vertebrae transferring changes in shape of the gas bladder to the middle ear." This makes their perception of pressure more direct and granular than ours, so what prevents them from diving deeper could be similar to what prevents us from walking into a fire.


When diving (as opposed to using a submarine), your body reaches the same pressure as the water surrounding it so there is no differntial to feel.

The effects of that pressure can change the way that our bodies interact with the gases disolved in our blood.

Nitrogen/Gas narcosis occures (with a normal air mixture) due to the higher partial pressure of those gases in your blood and cause an effect similar to inhaling nitrous oxide.

At even higher pressures, oxygen (in standard air mixtures) reach a partial pressure in your blood that becomes toxic, can cause severe damage and trigger seizures. (Which at depth will likely be fatal.)

Drivers who go deep must switch between different air mixtures as they descend and ascend through different pressure. This "tech" diving can be very dangerous and requires detailed training and planning to do safely.

I am no biologist but would imagine that animals who dive deep have developed specialized metabolisms to deal with the changes in partial pressure of gases as they dive deeper. (Edit: it looks like diving air breathers tend to have mechanisms to reduce the gas exchange between their lungs and blood so that the partial pressure of gases in their blood doesn't go up as they go down)

Decompression is a different issue and has to do with how these high partial pressures of gases (especially nitrogen) work their way out of tissues without coming out of solution and forming air bubbles.

This is because you are artificially pressurized by the air you're breathing when scuba diving that deep. If you held your breath and went that deep, you would definitely feel the pressure.

That isn't really accurate. You are "pressurized" by the water around you. When the air comes out of your air tank, it's volume is dictated by the pressure around you. (Edit: this pressurized air has a higher partial pressure of the constituent gases which causes them to be absorbed from your lungs into your blood and then into your other tissues which eventually changes the partial pressure of the gases disolved in them, the reverse happens as you ascend and theses gases work their way back out into your blood and then lungs.)

"Feeling" changes in pressure depends on air space that can't equalize that pressure. One reason masks (which cover the nose) are used rather than goggles (which don't) is so that you can add air from your lungs to the mask and equalize the pressure. Otherwise you could give yourself a black eye or suffer a severe injury.

I think you can already feel that pressure when holding your breath and diving just 3m deep.

Yep. It continues to become more intense as you go deeper. You can wreck your lungs going to even 20-30m if you haven't trained them to handle the pressure.

lots and lots of nasty predators

External pressure. It might be easier for you to survive at 130ft because you have a sturdy rib-cage and skull that keeps your internals together. Fish do not get this luxury. It might be entirely possible for a fish to swim down to 3000 meters, but I think evolution probably played a role in killing off all the fish who decided to risk it and swim that deep. As a result, "modern" fish probably experience more anxiety or similar emotions as they go deeper.

This is not correct. Your rib cage and skull are scarcely able to contain the immense pressure at 130 ft. When SCUBA diving, you inhale air at the same pressure as the water at your current depth, there's no force on your rib cage. When free diving, your flexibility allows your organs to compress into the space previously occupied by your lungs.

A fish's swim bladder is full of air that's been extracted from the water. As long as they don't go up and down too fast, they'll be fine at whatever depth.

But the other side of the equation is the partial pressures of various gasses dissolved in the blood. Humans experience nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity just from breathing regular air and need special mixtures, fish need special biology to cope.

I think this is wrong but I am not a biologist. Fish do not contain air, which is the compressible fluid which limits our ability to go to great depths unprotected. Water is very incompressible, and is most of what fish are. So I don't think depth is the issue.

I would hazard a guess that it has to do with where food is.

Fish control their buoyancy via a swim bladder.

Suddenly bringing up a deep water fish would make it explode. every 33ft up the volume of air doubles.

Hence that rule of diving of never holding your breath and continuously letting the air out as you surface.

What I find incredible that a seal could dive that deep, the volume of air at that depth would be a tiny fraction of the volume of air at the surface. It is as if its lungs were completely collapsed and empty.

> Suddenly bringing up a deep water fish would make it explode. every 33ft up the volume of air doubles.

I could be missing something, but I don't think this is quite correct.

Coming up from the first 33ft (10 meters) of depth, the pressure would go from two bars to one, or half, so the volume would double.

But any deeper, the ratio of pressure between the current depth and ten meters shallower isn't double, it's n/(n - 1).

I used my recollection from diving instruction and looks like I was off, every 33ft (10 meters) adds one ATM pressure, which, in turn, works as you said.

Every ten meters the volume goes down like so 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5

PS. Fish could still explode tho

Correct, pressure is linear in depth.

Yes the lungs are collapsed completely. A seal, as I understand it, has extremely haemoglobin rich blood and stores all its oxygen there for the dive.

For diving mammals, most of the oxygen is carried in the muscles by myoglobin. It turns out that the myoglobin density in muscles is very precisely related with the diving ability of the mammal, and the the density is also very precisely correlated with the surface charge (and thus the exact sequence) of the myoglobin protein. There's an amazing paper about this that then uses myoglobin sequence to infer the diving abilities of extinct mammals.[1]

I'm not in general willing to be a guinea pig for genetic manipulation, but toothed whale myoglobin and being able to dive with empty lungs for half an hour or 45 minutes? Sign me up.

[1]: Mirceta, S., Signore, A. V., Burns, J. M., Cossins, A. R., Campbell, K. L., & Berenbrink, M. (2013). Evolution of mammalian diving capacity traced by myoglobin net surface charge. Science, 340(6138), 1234192–1234192. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1234192

I read that some seals can also force air into respiratory cavities in their skull, which keeps them from suffering decompression sickness.

I am not sure how deep they would be able to go with this technique but it might be helpful in shallow water. I mean, to equalise at 20m they would need to generate 2bar (~30psi) of pressure. That is quite a lot! For reference, humans can normally push about 0.1bar (1-2psi) by blowing.. and their sinuses would need to withstand that pressure at the surface, before they dive.

Also, this has nothing to do with decompression sickness (aka 'the bends'). That is to do with dissolved gases in the blood which turn into bubbles when the pressure is lowered.

Idk, I was just referring to Wikipedia where it says:

> Air is forced from the lungs during a dive and into the upper respiratory passages, where gases cannot easily be absorbed into the bloodstream. This helps protect the seal from the bends.


>Also, this has nothing to do with decompression sickness (aka 'the bends'). That is to do with dissolved gases in the blood which turn into bubbles when the pressure is lowered.

Dissolved gases dropping out of solution and forming bubbles is literally decompression sickness.

Yes, I'm pretty sure that is exactly what I wrote?

Dissolved bubbles in blood has everything to do with the bends.

You have twice restated exactly what I have written, thank you.

and for clarity: 'forcing air into respiratory cavities in the skull' would not prevent the bends.

this is a good point, there is a lot more to diving really deep than storing a sufficient amount of oxygen. Basic physiological processes work differently at high pressures.

ah, fascinating! now it makes sense, it stores the air somewhere else!

It's enough of a problem that there's special needles made specifically for puncturing a fish's swim bladder and relieving the pressure:


I kept thinking "wow, that has to be the deepest diving air breathing animal here," and I kept being amazed at how deep some animals can dive.

I was super surprised by the penguins, the emperor penguin dives 500 meters deep? That's impressive

Yah, mammals keep butting in all the way down to three k, which is much further than many animals I think of (incorrectly) as being bottom dwellers, like angler fish

Beautiful! A really important article about how we’re about to start mining these regions on an unprecedented scale: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/01/20000-f...

Holy moly. The human diving at 332 meters is insane. That’s 34 ata, or 34 times the atmospheric pressure, or 34x compression on your body. Did they use some sort of inverse pressurized suit that can hold this sort of pressure ? I’ve scuba dived to 50m and even that was a bit dizzy for the brain. People have known to hallucinate if they stay deep too long. 330+ meters is absolute nuts. Wow! Someone explain me the science of how this is possible.

Very broadly, when scuba diving you're breathing gas at the same pressure of the depth at which you are. So the deeper you go, the greater the pressure of the gas that is being dissolved into your tissues. You don't feel this pressure, only the pressure in the body's "hollow" spaces, like sinuses, Eustachian tubes. That's why you need to equalise on the way down.

When you dive to 50m, the feeling of "being dizzy" happens when diving on air. This is due to Nitrogen narcosis. To minimise this, in technical diving, helium is added to the mix, to reduce the percentage of nitrogen and minimise the narcosis.

Going down to 332m, as you correctly say subjects you to a pressure of 34 Bar. To dive this deep you need to be breathing 4% Oxygen, maximum (compared to 21% that is in air we breathe at the surface). At this level, making the mix needs to be extremely precise and you need to be sure your instruments are properly calibrated, as a 5% mix can potentially kill you at that depth.

Your body is primarily water so no pressure suit is necessary, but gas narcosis, high pressure neurological syndrome, and oxygen toxicity are all serious issues. You use different breathing mixtures like trimix or heliox to manage them.

Ascending is just as dangerous since you now have highly compressed gas bubbles throughout your body. There are different models you can follow to manage decompression, but it’s far from settled science. Both individual variation and situational factors can affect it greatly.

It reminds me of another scrolling experience, "If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel - A tediously accurate map of the solar system" (https://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem....).

There is a space object size visualization on that same site that is worth a look:


On mobile, my URL bar being displayed adds about 2 meters to the depth that any given creature can survive. I suggest that divers start putting URL bars at the top of their masks.

The site mentions the Trieste reaching Challenger Deep and how a window cracked on the way down. I can't imagine wanting to reach it so badly that they'd risk the implosion. I guess death at that depth has the benefit of being instant.

If you are interested, one of piccard books, Au Fond Des Mers en Bathyscaphe, explains everything from a personal perspective. It contains many engineering details that are deeply interesting

Do you by any chance mean “Seven Miles Down: The Story of the Bathyscaph Trieste” by Jacques Piccard? I can only find the title you mentioned by Auguste Piccard, a different explorer.

Father and son

I can totally imagine wanting to reach it that badly -- what else could you do, turn back that close to the bottom? That said, they didn't actually know that a window had broken until they were already there[0]:

> After almost five hours inside their tiny 6ft 4in cabin, the duo touched down on the sea floor at 36,000ft. [...] They spent 20 minutes there identifying the source of the explosive sound – a cracked acrylic window towards the back of the sub's entrance tunnel caused by the immense pressure of the water surrounding them. Due to their extreme conditions, they wouldn’t be able to fix it until they had made the long journey back to land through the silent abyss.

They did still continue despite the sound and vibration, of course.

[0]: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/true-story-behind...

> what else could you do, turn back that close to the bottom?


You can't come back that fast anyway.

The content and presentation is fantastic.

The page is using up 15-20% CPU and GPU when it is the active tab even when not scrolling. That seems unexpected and unfortunate.

(I noticed because by the time I got to 3400 meters, my laptop's fans became audible.)

Same, dell xps13 is on fire. GPU 99%, cpu 30%. Unsure why.

Is there any [good] reason for this not to be a static site?

I was Googling some creatures that caught my eye, including the Megamouth Shark at 4600 meters. The sources I read put it at 1000 meters at the deepest, but preferring much shallower waters. Am I overlooking something?

Regardless, fun and interesting webpage!

I see sources citing 4600m and also 1500m (as normal), but some footnotes and referances to The Deep Sea stats would be nice.

If you enjoyed this and also like playing games, treat yourself with Subnautica. It‘s very good at giving you the feeling of how I would think it would feel to have to survive on an ocean covered planet, including diving into the depths.


would be nice to have citations of the facts and links to the creatures. For example, I was interested if it's true that giant isopod could live for 5 years without food and couldn't find any credible information

I was expecting a Cthulhu reference at the deepest point for good fun! Nicely done, but would be nice to also provide indicators of pressure and temperature on the side as you go down.

Huh, penguins can dive deep.

Yea, that would be like me running to the night-shop to get beer and run back home, all the while holding my breath.

> 6000 m: "More people have been to the Moon than the Hadal Zone."

I wish some bored billionaires would take up the challenge and pump their billions into deep sea research. Like some others do for space exploration.

> "So little is known about life in these deep environments. Almost every expedition uncovers something new."

Nice! Also liked the trivia 'snuck' into certain depths, like the deepest scuba dive at 332 meters.

Elephant Seals dive to 2400 meters and Cuviers Whales to 3000 meters? That's incredible for a mammal.

Beaked whales in general are fascinating. Only a fraction of a percent of people will likely every see one and only a fraction of those people will even know that they're seeing something more notable than any other whale. They're incredibly poorly understood to the point where there are very possibly species that are completely unknown to science.


> Only a fraction of a percent of people will likely every see one

And I'm in that fraction, muahahahaha. ;-)

I was amazed at that as well about the Elephant Seal.

"One final note about life in the abyss: not all intruders from the lighted world are ROVs or submarines. A southern elephant seal tagged by Census project TOPP recently dove down 2,388 meters (~1.5 miles) from the surface. At that depth, water pressure is roughly equal to 240 times the air pressure at sea level. The human eardrum can rupture at 10 meters"


That is amazing, I wonder how long that journey would be?

Wow I felt increasing anxiety / claustrophobia as I scrolled deeper and deeper. I can’t imagine what it was like for those two in that tiny sub. A mix of that and elation/excitement at pushing the frontier of man forward

This looks like it might be cool but it's completely unusable for me in Firefox on a 2012 rMBP. It makes the browser nearly unresponsive, taking about 15 seconds to go back to the previous page.

I’m on an iPhone X on Firefox and it’s a very smooth experience.

My iPhone X on brave got really hot tough

This is really cool. I showed my son and they use it in his science class.

Note that “the oldest species of <x>” doesn’t make any sense. Both that species as well as its closest evolutionary relative have a last common ancestor, meaning they are equally “old”.

Do this a few times and you will notice all species have the same “age”, assuming life today all descendent from a common ancestor. Yes, some of them have may have changed more or less in appearance, but that correlates poorly with genetic changes.

"Oldest" in the sense that it has existed (as far as we can measure) in it's current form longer than any other species.

You can't say that a species is as old as it's ancestral species, because you're talking about two different species.

Wow, that was a more visceral experience than what I anticipated. I felt more and more uncomfortable the deeper I went... Conclusion: I’d rather go to the Moon.

I guess humans cannot stand suspense. I wanted to see what is in the end but gave up after 1.5K meters.



That one caught me off guard. I'm used to seeing stories (or "tales") of e.g. Sperm Whales accomplishing incredible dives like that. An elephant seal doesn't really seem to be tuned to that kind of performance dives.

Fascinating Sunday read, thanks.

Very nice! But, penguins at sub 500 meters? Honestly, wtf are you doing down there!?

my ipad overheated while browsing the page

Amazing to know elephant seal and cuviers beaked whale dived so deep.

One additional info that could be included is that of submarines and their depth rating.

Time for another round of Subnautica

I forgot the number of Jewel squids that I measured. I'm very fond of them, yep.

Great site, it brought back nostalgia of reading deep sea books as a kid.

That's a lot of water that we're acidifying

Is there any documentary which takes us this deep?

Wow, didn't know polar bears could go that deep.

Elephant seals can apparently dive much much deeper (2,388 m) which completely surprised me as well.

Throughoutly enjoyed it. Thanks for the good work.

This really goes to show you how far species we normally think of as living mostly near the surface will go in search of a meal.

Very nicely done. Congratulations

i was not expecting to see an elephant seal at 2392 meters!

As cool as it is, this link is probably being posted a little bit too often:


On HN, an article doesn't count as a dupe if it hasn't had significant attention yet. One user isn't allowed to repost the same article more than a small number of times (see https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html), but when the same article is posted by many different submitters, that's often an indication that it's interesting. Because of that, we invited Yuval_Halevi to repost it, since he was the first user to submit it in the first place. Invited reposts get put in the second-chance pool (described at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11662380), which is why this one made it to the front page.

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