2023 Annual Report
A bright purple acorn worm. The animal’s head is pointed to the top right of the frame, with its body twisted below and curving to the top left of the frame. The animal’s bulbous head is resting on a rocky outcropping. Its gut is full of brown fecal casts. This screen capture from underwater video shows an animal draped over black rocks covered in brown sediments. Two red laser dots on the right and left sides of the frame help scientists estimate the relative size of objects in the frame.

MBARI’s new Animals of the Deep video series introduces audiences to the denizens of the deep, like acorn worms (class Enteropneusta), to inspire stewardship of deep-sea animals and environments. Image: © 2022 MBARI

Inspiring awe and action by sharing stories from the deep sea

The deep sea teems with life. Gelatinous giants, invisible squids, thousand-year-old corals, and cartoon-like sea cucumbers—the animals that thrive in the ocean’s inky depths defy imagination. Deep-sea animals are our neighbors who live in our blue backyard and we are more alike than you might think. We all share a need for food, safety, shelter, and companions.

Our connection to the ocean runs deep. Actions we take on land ripple to the ocean’s depths. The ocean is changing and, now more than ever, deep-sea animals need our help to survive threats like overfishing, pollution, and climate change. A new video and web series created by MBARI’s SciComm Team and Video Lab hopes to inspire stewardship of deep-sea animals and environments.

The title graphic for the Animals of the Deep video series is overlaid atop a blurred and darkened image of blue open water. The graphic consists of an inverted triangle with the text “Animals of the Deep” in uppercase letters with “of the” in smaller font and stacked on top of each other at the very top. Inside the triangle are simple line drawings of a vampire squid, gulper eel, crab, and deep-sea coral.
MBARI’s Animals of the Deep video series shares stories of deep-sea animals with the goal of fostering connections with human audiences. Image: Madeline Go © 2023 MBARI

Launched in 2023, the new Animals of the Deep video series and accompanying web pages highlight the unexpected connections between our audience and life in the deep sea. Each video is approximately two to four minutes long and offers a deeper dive into some of the remarkable species that MBARI has encountered over our past 36 years of research. Some animals are frequently encountered species found around the globe, others are exciting new species revealed by MBARI technology, but all play an important role in the ocean and need to be protected.

The production of each episode starts with a brainstorming session, where the SciComm Team and Video Lab identify specific facts, emotions, and calls to action that they hope audiences will take away from the video. They use the results as a guide to write the script and gather the appropriate footage from MBARI’s deep-sea video archive. After undergoing several rounds of editing and revision, the final video is published on MBARI’s YouTube channel and shared across MBARI’s social media channels. With each episode of Animals of the Deep, we seek to shift the deep-sea biology narrative away from one of fear and sensationalism and toward awe, empathy, and love for the ocean.

MBARI’s extensive video archive makes the institute uniquely suited to produce this series. Since 1988, MBARI’s underwater robots have filmed more than 28,000 hours of deep-sea footage. This library is a treasure trove for scientists and science communicators alike. MBARI’s Video Lab manages this incredible collection. Software designed by MBARI engineers allows the lab’s deep-sea experts to annotate this footage, making the archive searchable to fractions of a second. Researchers can sort through millions of annotations to call up specific animal observations with their associated depth, location, and environmental conditions.

An MBARI Video Lab member sits at a desk looking at two monitors. The monitors show video annotation software that looks like a grid of photos of deep-sea animals. A second MBARI Video Lab member stands behind the first one, leaning over and pointing at one of the screens.
Video Lab technicians review video annotations that help catalog the valuable information in MBARI’s video archive. Image: © 2022 MBARI

In 2023, the Video Lab completed a three-year effort to digitize MBARI’s videotape archive. A total of 26,500 hours of footage from 31,000 physical tapes were converted into a digital file format. These digital files are stored on MBARI servers and accessible to staff across the institute. Having MBARI’s entire history of footage digitized and accessible in this manner is incredibly powerful for the workflow of both research and video production projects.

This system enables the video production team to access the best footage to support the engaging scripts developed for the Animals of the Deep series. Sometimes, the team looks for close-ups that reveal stunning details of an animal’s appearance—color-changing skin cells, radiating tentacles, and pulsating swimming bells are just a few adaptations featured in the series so far. Other times, the team searches for moments that capture key behaviors, such as small fishes sheltering among coral polyps or worms leaving behind spirals of sand as they move across the seafloor.

While video research is underway, MBARI’s science communicators set to work crafting a script that will engage audiences while highlighting educational messages about biology, conservation, and technology. Each script in the series is written with a conversational voice, using simple vocabulary and defining more technical terms when necessary. A different member of the team narrates every episode, and each script is transcribed and translated into captions in multiple languages to make the videos accessible to wider audiences.

MBARI’s SciComm Team believes ocean exploration should be accessible to all. The casual language of the scripts, together with the variety of friendly voices heard throughout the series, helps viewers feel as if they are listening to a story being told directly to them. On-screen animations convey additional facts and help viewers visualize more abstract concepts, such as how deep an animal might live. These digestible and engaging stories help audiences realize that deep-sea animals are not as different from us as they first seem and inspire them to care more about these species.

An MBARI ROV pilot controlling an underwater robot to view animals on the deep seafloor
The ability of MBARI’s ROV pilots to carefully maneuver our robotic submersibles is crucial to the studying and filming of deep-sea animals. Image: Lori Eanes © Monterey Bay Aquarium

Animals of the Deep also provides an opportunity to highlight MBARI’s expertise in deep-sea science and technology. The series has introduced some of the species discovered by our scientists and how the skill of our submersible pilots is integral to capturing footage of incredibly delicate deep-sea drifters. Highlighting the work of MBARI’s staff also increases audience awareness about what a career in ocean exploration can look like.

Animals of the Deep encourages reflection on conservation issues surrounding ocean health. Just like the ocean at large, deep-sea communities are impacted by a variety of human-generated threats—climate change, pollution, and mining are just a few examples that have been mentioned in the series so far.

By connecting the dots to these ocean threats, Animals of the Deep reduces the audiences’ sense of psychological distance from the deep ocean and helps them realize that humans play a role in the health of these ecosystems. We hope the series helps build a community of ocean champions.

During the series’ inaugural year, the production team published five episodes of Animals of the Deep, with a sixth published in early 2024. The primary home for the series’ full-length episodes is MBARI’s YouTube channel, which currently has a following of more than 246,000 subscribers and garnered 5.8 million views in 2023 alone.

The SciComm Team also adapts Animals of the Deep episodes for other online platforms, supporting MBARI’s efforts to engage a diversity of audiences wherever they are. Short-form versions of some of the episodes have been developed for TikTok, where MBARI has accumulated 87,200 followers and 1.1 million likes since joining the platform in 2022.

Investing in newer social media platforms such as TikTok increases our potential to connect with an audience that might not be familiar with MBARI. This connection with a new viewership provides the chance to educate more people about the wonders of marine life and the threats facing our ocean. By engaging new and diverse audiences, we aim to inspire future ocean explorers to help protect the largest living space on Earth.

“I hope meeting some of the amazing animals of the deep inspires audiences around the world to take action toward protecting ocean health.”
—Research Technician Larissa Lemon

More fascinating stories about the inhabitants of the deep sea are planned for 2024. To keep up with Animals of the Deep and for the latest updates on MBARI’s work, connect with us on social media and sign up for our newsletter.

Former flagship starts its next chapter

MBARI’s former flagship research vessel sets sail with the Florida Institute of Oceanography.