The bottom of the ocean is teeming with weird animals — and this week, they’re being featured in a cute postcard created by the National Centers for Environmental Information. The postcard is part of new twice-monthly series of images taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s vast photo collection and paired with scientific descriptions.
This week, the postcard stars the photogenic, bottom-dwelling sea creatures that make up the broad category of benthic animals or benthos— like sponges, starfish, and scallops. They’re as diverse as the varied underwater habitats they live in. But most of these invertebrates are similar in that they survive by filtering through the muck that drifts to the ocean floor. They basically act like the ocean’s garbage disposal, churning up the sediment and cycling nutrients in the meantime.
A few benthic animals live really, really deep underwater, like these lobsters that shack up next to hydrothermal vents nearly four miles beneath the surface. “That’s the equivalent of 13 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other,” NOAA writes.
To withstand the high pressures and cold temperatures of the deep ocean, many benthic animals puff themselves up with water and slow down their metabolisms. But humans are less well-adapted to the intense pressures. So to snap these photos, people working with NOAA sent down the Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which can dive up to four miles down.
During these dives, the Deep Discoverer captured a couple brand new species on camera and took enough photos that scientists could create a Benthic Deepwater Animal Identification Guide. Now, we can look at these gorgeous photos and even send them as birthday cards to mom.