The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the first Blue Park in the U.S. North Atlantic. Designated in September of 2016, this extraordinary place is located about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod and is roughly the size of Connecticut. The Monument features three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and four seamounts — extinct volcanoes — that rival the Rocky Mountains in their size and majesty. Now protected from commercial extractive activities, this unique landscape supports an incredible diversity of marine life — including endangered whales, sea turtles, seabirds and fragile deep-sea corals.
Research and Exploration: A Biodiversity Hot-spot!
Mystic Aquarium scientists and partners have explored and conducted pioneering research in this region for decades. A recent, wide-ranging scientific analysis with collaborators at New England Aquarium revealed that this biodiversity hotspot is one of the best remaining examples of an undisturbed ecosystem in the U.S. North Atlantic — making it vital to scientific research, especially in the face of climate change. This “living laboratory” has much to teach us about how nature works in the ocean.
The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules explores Bear Seamount, with pilots and scientists on the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown above.
Scientists direct the exploration of the deep ocean from shipboard, as well as via telepresence, with an ROV launched from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.
The fins of the dumbo octopus (family Opisthoteuthidae), resemble the Disney character Dumbo the Elephant and led to the common name for this deep-sea species.
The deep-sea lizardfish (genus Bathysaurus) is an apex predator with multiple rows of sharp teeth to hold and pierce prey animals — principally other fishes.
This halosaur is in a family of eel-shaped fishes living exclusively in the deep ocean. They use their long fins to swim or simply as a rudder to find and capture invertebrate prey on or above the seafloor.
An octopus (genus Graneledone) uses a crevice in a canyon wall for shelter, surrounded by a garden of corals, deep-sea mussels and a diversity of other species.
The dragonfish (family Stomiidae) is a midwater predator and uses a light organ (photophore) on the end of the barbell — located on the lower jaw — to attract prey.
Siphonophores are gelatinous creatures of the midwater that form colonies with different segments performing different functions, like propulsion, prey capture, digestion and reproduction. Some colonies can grow larger than a blue whale.
This xenophyophore — with a brittle star on top — is a giant, fist-sized single-celled organism (like an amoeba) with sediment providing a skeleton-like structure. These organisms are known exclusively from the deep sea, are extremely fragile and are hard to study.
Urchins and Brittle Stars
Deep-sea urchins feed on invertebrates and organic material on the seafloor. Brittle stars can do the same or can switch to capturing food particles from the water. All are members of the phylum Echinodermata.
Serengeti of the Sea: Whales, Sea Turtles, and Seabirds -- Oh My
Much like the Serengeti, this is a place where wildlife abounds! Whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, tunas and other top oceanic predators feed on an abundance of plankton, small fish and squid — while the surface waters support a tremendous diversity of seabirds. A haven for threatened and protected species, the region supports the Atlantic puffin, deep-diving endangered sperm whales, beaked whales and three species of sea turtles — to name a few.
Photographs are representative of wildlife known to inhabit the Monument
The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is the largest toothed whale on the planet. It uses echolocation to find squid, octopus and fish in the dark of the deep ocean.
Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) migrate from summer nesting grounds in the Gulf of Maine to winter feeding areas in the Atlantic canyons where upwellings produce abundant fish and squid. Jean-Jacques Boujot, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0.
Long-finned and short-finned pilot whales (genus Globicephala) feed on abundant squid in the canyons region.
Green Sea Turtle
A green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) feeds on gelatinuous zooplankton, drifting algae and small invertebrates when in deep-water regions.
Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) hunt in large groups, or pods.
Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) can reach speeds of 40 mph, dive to 1600 ft (500 m) and hunt for small fish as well as squid and other invertebrates. © Copyright OCEANA / Keith Ellenbogen
Deep Sea Corals: Beautiful and Fragile
Along the steep sides of the canyons and seamounts, you will find colonies of ancient, vividly colored, cold-water corals. These deep-sea corals are slow-growing and long-lived — some a thousand years and older, as tall as small trees and as thick as forests. Their slow-growing and fragile nature makes them extremely vulnerable to disturbance. As many as 73 different coral species have been identified in the Monument area — some new to science — teaching us that there is much left to discover in the depths of this ocean oasis.
This colony of bamboo coral (family Isididae), found along the side of Mytilus Seamount, has crinoids attached to it.
This red octocoral (genus Anthomastus), found in Oceanographer Canyon, has its polyps open in search of prey.
Corals provide habitat for a diversity of species, such as this basket star on a coral fan.
Crinoid on Coral
Crinoids, or sea lilies, are distant relatives of sea stars. They perch on corals and capture food that drifts by in the current.
Each polyp of these colonial animals can capture food, which is then shared with the entire colony.
The common name for Paragorgia arborea is bubblegum coral. It is named for the bumpy areas of dense polyps shaped like wads of gum. Here the colony provides habitat for a deep-sea shrimp.
This landscape features a Dr. Seuss’s garden of coral species living on Retriever Seamount.
Here you can see a close-up of the tentacles of a black coral (order Antipatharia).
Stand up for Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments
Today an Executive Order threatens to undo the protection of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and other marine protected areas. You can help by contacting your U.S. Senators and Representatives and asking them to support protection of this place and other special places in the ocean.