Saturday, August 10, 2019

Glimpsing the Abyss

The Orange County Regional History Center (65 E Central Blvd, Orlando, FL) hosted Karen Osborn a research zoologist and curator as she talked about the small creatures found in the oceans. Her fascination with invertebrate zoology was contagious. She works primarily with deep sea animals. Which means collecting these creatures for study is always an adventure.

These creatures don't live on the sea floor but in  the mid-water. These creatures come in amazing shapes and forms. They are unusual and unique. It was a glimpse int the weird forms alive in our oceans. All these creatures are refereed to as pelagic which means they spend their lives swimming. Some are single cell organisms resembling amoebas while others resemble armored military vehicles with spikes and hard forms. Many are transparent and gelatinous. Amphipods resemble insects with strange eyes and odd appendages. Many of these creatures ancestors once lived on the sea floor and they gradually moved up into the water column.

Karen is largely interested in the wide diversity of life to be found floating in the ocean's water column. Her focus is on Natural History, as in how these creatures are similar and how they are different. She studies biodiversity, taxonomy,  and morphological variations. Most of her research is done in collaboration with the Monterrey Bay Research Institute which has two ships and two remotely operated submersible vehicles. The submersible is tethered to the operating ship at all times and the pilot and scientist sit in a control room in front of a wall of monitors watching what is happening in the deep sea below. The vehicle has 14 different cameras along with collection devices like a suction samples and a detritus sampler. An animal can be collected without it even realizing that it has been collected. There are over 25 years of oceanographic video that has been archived from these missions.

New species are being discovered like a strange and exotic squid worm that had many legs that propel the creature through the water. These creatures have amazing ways of adapting to their deep sea existence. For instance the need to smell is more important that the sense of sight so highly sensitive noses have developed with thousands of hair like cells extending out into the water column. This allows them to sniff out food from far away. Any science fiction designer could learn so much from studying these amazing creatures of the deep sea. This was a fun opportunity to sketch creatures I had never seen before.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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