Discover Alien Life Forms in the Mission to the Deep Exhibit

This exhibit puts deep-sea exploration at your fingertips! Three virtual "missions" combine video footage of incredible deep-sea animals with the hands-on experience of using underwater robots and other high-tech tools. You'll learn about the cutting-edge research conducted each day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), where scientists and engineers use innovative technology on marine research projects.


What is MBARI?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) is a leading center for ocean exploration and research. Like the Aquarium, MBARI was set up through the generosity of the Packard family. Both organizations share a passion for conserving the oceans. Visit MBARI's website.

Your Mission, If You Choose to Accept It

Discover alien forms in the Mission to the Deep Exhibit

Mission #1: Discover Alien Life Forms

Send a remote-controlled sub into the midwater to photograph bizarre deep-sea creatures, such as vampire squid, giant deep-sea jellies and spookfish. The mysterious depths of the midwater—the largest habitat on Earth—extend from several hundred feet below the ocean surface to just above the seafloor. The animals who live there have adapted to weightlessness, almost total darkness and infrequent meals.
Sunken ship interactive in the Mission to the Deep exhibit

Mission #2: Map Undersea Mountains

Explore and map seamounts using self-guided underwater robots. The world's oceans are dotted with tens of thousands of seamounts—undersea mountains that lie thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Ocean currents swirl around seamounts, trapping microscopic algae and animals that provide food for birds, marine mammals, and commercially important fish near the sea surface. Deeper currents carry sinking food particles that nourish ancient forests of sponges and corals on the peaks and sides of these mountains.
Whale bone interactive in the Mission to the Deep Exhibit

Mission #3: Investigate a Sunken Whale

Operate a camera attached to a virtual deep seafloor observatory to monitor the surprisingly rich and varied marine life around a sunken whale carcass. When a whale dies, its enormous bones settle on the sea floor, providing a feast for deep-sea animals that can last for years. To find out what happens at these "whalefalls" over time, MBARI scientists have sunk five whale carcasses in Monterey Bay and have been using remotely operated vehicles to check on them several times a year.

Deep-Sea Animals Found in Monterey Bay

Apple anemone

The apple anemone is a delicate pink—a color much like a spring flower. Anemones—sometimes called flowers of the sea—are ancient and successful animals. They lack definite heads, but have a ring of tentacles around a mouth that opens into a tubelike body cavity, where food is digested. The tentacles of the apple anemone are stubby rather than long, and number at least 160 in adults.

Bloodybelly comb jelly

Ironically, at the depths where the bloodybelly lives, it's nearly invisible to predators. In the darkness of the deep sea, animals that are red appear black and blend into the dark background.

Deep sea anglerfish

In some species of anglerfish, the males are tiny, with simplified body features, and they live as parasites on the females. This is thought to be an adaptation to save energy, allowing the females to feed on whatever food is available. The males seem to have evolved for one purpose only: to find a female and deliver sperm.

Whale worm

Scientists working at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in 2004 discovered two new species of unique tubeworms that feed on the bones of dead whales. The worms are in a new genus called "Osedax," which is Latin for "bone devourer."


Cool Facts

  • In a typical year, MBARI researchers see over a dozen deep-sea animals that are new to science.
  • MBARI marine biologists have shown that jellies are some of the most numerous and important animals in the deep sea.
  • MBARI engineers have designed and built robots that can swim through the water, crawl along the seafloor, and run DNA tests in the middle of the ocean.
  • MBARI's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Ventana has made more dives than any other scientific ROV in the world.
  • MBARI's remotely operated vehicle Doc Ricketts can dive almost two and a half miles below the ocean surface.
  • MBARI researchers can study Monterey Bay without ever leaving their offices, thanks to MBARI's four monitoring buoys, which continuously send data back to shore via satellite.

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