Field of Science


12 Things I Found Exploring the California Seafloor (and You Can Too)

If for some reason you haven't been invited on a submersible ride-along, the next best thing is probably 340 miles' worth of raw video footage from the ocean floor.

The U.S. Geological Survey just released a whole mess of data from its California Seafloor Mapping Program. Together with many partners, it's working on building maps of the California coast that include seafloor depth, habitat type, and other geological features. There's also video footage from cameras towed a few feet above the seafloor, as well as 87,000 still photos taken at regular intervals.

At the project's website, visitors can explore an interactive map that's layered with whichever types of data interest them. I know somebody out there is into bathymetry, but I opted to explore the library of photos and videos. Below is a selection of things I spotted. 

The videos are kind of tedious but will reward the patient viewer with an occasional sea cucumber or alarmed fish. And the up-and-down bouncing of the camera as it travels over the seafloor might induce seasickness, so I'm guessing it's a realistic experience. If I ever get that invitation, I'll let you know.

Local color.

Cauliflower trees (disclaimer: I am not a marine biologist)...

...which the camera smashed into.


Crabs making friends with starfish.

An ex-starfish? Note the impression in the ground. Maybe it got friendly with the wrong arthropod.

Further evidence for my theory that at the bottom of the sea, everything is either terrifying...

...or shaped like a penis. (What? I edit a kids' science magazine. YOU try finding a photograph of a bone-eating worm that's appropriate for 12-year-olds. Go Google it right now. I'll wait.)

We crashed into the ground again. Maybe the little crabs that keep scurrying away from the camera have the right idea.

Fodder for the future BuzzFeed article "45 Ocean-Floor Animals That Are Totally Waving Hello."

And something incognito. Does anyone know what it is?

Golden, Nadine E., & Cochrane, Guy R. (2013). California Seafloor Mapping Program video and photograph portal U.S. Geological Survey data set : 10.5066F7J1015K

Images: Golden, Nadine E., and Cochrane, Guy R., 2013, California Seafloor Mapping Program video and photograph portal. U.S. Geological Survey data set, doi.10.5066F7J1015K


  1. The last one looks like a "mermaids purse" - the egg case of various shark and skate species.

  2. The "cauliflower trees" look like "Plumose Anemones" (Metridium senile). ;)

    And I agree with Jack, that the thing in the last photo looks like a "mermaid's purse".

    If you think this is cool, you might want to take part in the citizen science project "Seafloor Explorer"
    It's pretty much looking at photos of the seafloor and identifying how many critters you can spot (don't worry the tutorial teaches you to ID the animals).

    Careful though, 'cause it is a bit addictive. ;)

    1. Thanks, Carina! I love that people are reading who can actually tell me what these species are. (Although there have been no takers yet on the orange fellow with all the arms...)

      I've tried Seafloor Explorer and found the gravel-to-actual-animals ratio a little too much for me. I do love Snapshot Serengeti, though.

  3. The orange multi-armed one is a sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides. These impressive creatures are the fast and greedy and have up to 24 arms the better to grab you with.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.