Oceans: Vast moving waters give life to our blue planet

Oceans cover two-thirds of our planet and include the largest unexplored areas on Earth. They also affect life here on land. Like the rainforests, oceans produce oxygen for the world and regulate our climates. Protecting them is vital for our survival.

Beneath the water’s surface, mountains, valleys, and plains shape a variety of ecosystems: sunny and shallow coastal waters, vast expanses of dimly lit mid-water, and the inky darkness of the deepest sea, all providing habitats for diverse marine life. World Ocean Day is designated to bring awareness to the importance of our oceans and the need to protect them. At the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science, guests may explore three different marine ecosystems — shallow, mid-water, and deep sea — today and every day.

Mid-Water

Sunlight fades away in the ocean’s twilight realm

The mid-water exhibit is generously sponsored in honor of Leila Saavalinen Steele

Most of the world’s oceans are mid-water, located between the surface shallows and the seafloor far below. Here, in the largest expanse of unexplored space left on Earth, immense whales and giant squid swim alongside fishes and invertebrates of all sizes.

The Mid-Water Ocean exhibit includes the juvenile humpback whale skull collected by DelMNS staff in 2018.
The whale exhibit is sponsored by M&T Bank | Wilmington Trust

Deep in the mid-water, light is scarce, temperatures are low, and pressure is high. Sea life has found survival strategies for this harsh environment.

The Nightly Commute: Every night as the sun sets, many ocean residents commute up towards surface waters in search of food. As the sun rises, they return to deeper waters, where darkness helps them hide from predators. This behavior, called diel vertical migration, varies depending on the species and its life stage. Some organisms travel long distances while others stay mostly at one depth.

Deep-Sea Dive

Take the plunge into an ocean canyon expedition

The ocean’s canyons are deep and dramatic, just like those on land. Marine scientists explore these mysterious realms with remotely operated vehicles or ROVs – small submersible vessels launched from research ships.

Scientists and engineers remain on the ship, guiding the ROV’s descent to roam the canyon floor. As the vessel’s cameras record the trip, engineers use its robotic arms to collect specimens of sea life.

These dives provide valuable glimpses into our vast and unexplored oceans.

Ocean canyons are narrow valleys with steep sides cut into the edges of continents under oceans. They can be several thousand meters deep. This video shows a dive into Kinlan Canyon, located in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 kilometers (375 miles) east of New York City.

Museum scientists collected these specimens from canyons in the North Atlantic using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The jars were hand-blown by At-Mar Glass in Kennett Square, PA. Each jar has a glass armature created specifically to hold each specimen.

Shallow Water

The ocean’s shallow, clear waters are full of life.

Around the edges of continents, the oceans are shallow and sunlight can reach down to the seafloor. Fishes, crustaceans, and many other organisms browse on submerged grasses and swim among kelp forests.

In warm, shallow seas, tiny coral polyps make stony skeletons that gradually build up into immense structures. These coral reefs overflow with diverse plant and animal life.