As with most of the exhibit's 50 or so species, you won't find predatory tunicates on display anywhere else in the world-all other aquariums collect critters closer to the surface. It took 10 years of research and design to develop the black tanks, gel lamps, chilling units, oxygen-reducing pumps, and know-how that keep the deep-sea animals alive. And they've made some startling discoveries in the process. Before the exhibit opened in March 1999, for example, no one knew that the male spotted ratfish uses an organ on its forehead to latch onto the female during a particularly energetic copulation. "Daily observations help us piece together a story," says Franklin, the aquarium's senior aquarist. "It's a rare glimpse into what's out there-akin to exploring the moon."
Access to MBARI's high-tech equipment is just one factor that makes the exhibit possible, and possibly not the most important one. At least as vital is the unique underwater geography of Monterey Bay. Starting just a few hundred meters off shore, the sea floor fissures into an underwater canyon, reaching depths of up to 2 miles and stretching a mile from rim to rim. It's one of the few places on Earth with such depths so close to land, and it gives scientists a rare opportunity to bring deep-sea specimens home alive.
Before heading back to shore we make a last stop, for gorgonians-colorful stick-like corals with stinging polyps and a penchant for brine shrimp. We gather our quota quickly, which gives me the chance to make a collection of my own. Ignoring a black cod and a flapjack octopus, I nab a more docile sulfur sponge and throw it in the collection bin. Mysteries of the Deep will run until September 2003, so you have plenty of time to check out my sponge. It's yellow, doesn't move much, and looks a little beat-up. You can't miss it.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.