WHOI: Deep dive

Scientist Zoleka Filander collaborates with WHOI on a children's book.


Recently the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) published its first children’s book — a deep sea dive into a world that most of us will never witness outside of photos. “Where the Weird Things Are: An Ocean Twilight Zone Adventure” features creatures that live deep at sea in an area referred to as the Ocean Twilight Zone.

According to the WHOI website, “The ocean twilight zone is a layer of water that stretches around the globe. It lies 200 to 1,000 meters [roughly 650 feet to half a mile] below the ocean surface, just beyond the reach of sunlight.”

The illustrated book takes the young reader to a world of creatures who live in total darkness, and have developed unique features to allow them to survive in such a forbidding place.

The story follows Meso, an anthropomorphized, unmanned submersible who descends to the twilight zone, unaware of what type of “creature” it might be. There Meso meets up with a number of interesting characters like the strawberry jellyfish, an angler fish, and an enormous school of krill. With each encounter, Meso wonders if it might be related to the strange species that it meets, but our hero fails in its search for identity until it is hauled back up to the research vessel, where the information it has gathered is retrieved by the marine biologist crew. Along the way, Meso discovers that “It’s OK to be weird,” giving the story a relatable message for kids.

In the pages following the adventure story is a brief profile of each of the featured species, and there’s even a link to an online quiz titled “Which Creature Are You?”

The actual Mesobot, the inspiration for “Where the Weird Things Are,” is an underwater robot that helps researchers learn more about the creatures that live in the Ocean Twilight Zone. It has a pair of small thrusters to move very quietly through the water, and it uses special lights and cameras to noninvasively focus on individual creatures and study their behavior. The Mesobot is able to collect small samples of plankton, microbes, and seawater, which it brings back to the surface to be studied.

The book was also written by South African deep sea scientist Zoleka Filander, who has led numerous expeditions, spending several months at sea discovering more about her homeland’s uncharted oceans. Her work has helped forge a network of offshore marine protected areas, and has earned her multiple national, regional, and international awards.

The fabulous, colorful illustrations are by Patricia Hooning, a Dutch illustrator with a particular interest in ocean life.

WHOI is the world’s leading, independent nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education. According to its website, “The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is dedicated to advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system through a sustained commitment to excellence in science, engineering, and education, and to the application of this knowledge to problems facing society.”

“Where the Weird Things Are: An Ocean Twilight Zone Adventure” by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Zoleka Filander. Available at Edgartown Books and online.