How the ocean’s most mysterious deep-sea creatures are helping combat climate change

Transparent jellyfish, fish that lure their prey with “fishing rods” on their heads, and pancake-shaped octopuses call the deep sea home. In Monterey Bay, an underwater robot is searching for these elusive creatures.

The creatures found are on display in the new exhibit at the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, “In the deep.” The exhibition took five years to complete. The design is packed with piping, pumps, and filters to help replicate a deep-sea environment.

“This exhibit is an opportunity for visitors to see animals that no one has ever seen before,” Monterey Bay Aquarium vice president of exhibits Beth Redmond-Jones told CBS News Senior National and Environmental Correspondent Ben Tracy.

Tommy Knowles and his team spend their time looking for some of the creatures in an area that Knowles says are “far from the surface but also far from the bottom.”

“The animals we’re looking for in the middle of the water are a bit more of these strange-looking soft animals,” he said.

Deep-sea creatures are also found in an area known as the “oxygen minimum zone.” The underwater robot often travels 3,000 feet below the surface. Visibility on the way down is clouded by marine snow that includes mounds of fish scales, whale poop and microplastics from humans.

In these depths, researchers have found a vampire squid, a rare, brightly coloured jellyfish. Another rare find is a barreleye fish with a revealing transparent domed head and upward-looking eyes. It has been seen by humans less than 10 times.

The robot is remotely controlled by a control room located on a ship that floats along the California coast. It is during one of their trips that they find a jellyfish so rare that it doesn’t even have a name.

They extend the robot’s arm and, using suction, capture the creature, which they refer to as “red X”, in a container.

They also find a Red Paper Lantern jellyfish and another jellyfish known as a blood-belly jellyfish.

The team scrambles to transport their findings to larger jars inside a makeshift lab.

Marine life is key to keeping much of Earth’s carbon out of the atmosphere. Without this ocean ecosystem, scientists say the planet would have already overheated.

“The ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the heat produced by global warming. And each year it sequesters about 25% of the carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. So the ocean provides critical life support,” said Kelly Benoit-Bird, senior scientist and chair of science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Scientists are studying the role of deep-sea creatures as millions of them emerge from the depths at night to feed in the dark.

By feeding on marine plants and animals near the surface, the creatures could be responsible for sequestering up to half of the carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean, scientists say.

“We are trying to understand exactly what role this migration plays and what affects it,” Benoit-Bird said.