Backgrounder: Deep Sea Digital Guide Offers Rare Glimpses Of Ocean Life

What is the NEPTUNE Canada Marine Life Field Guide?
It’s the first interactive visual reference guide designed for tablet computers, to introduce the deep-sea creatures of the Pacific Ocean. These species—some newly discovered or little- known— have been observed through cameras installed on NEPTUNE Canada’s 800-km subsea observatory network, as well as during the network’s semi-annual research and maintenance expeditions, or “cruises,” off the west coast of British Columbia.

What does the guide contain?
There are currently 131 animals listed, enhanced by almost 30 minutes of video. They range from the giant Pacific octopus (the largest octopus in the world) to the bloodybelly comb jelly; from delicate sea spiders in the hydrothermal vents to otherworldly sea cucumbers on the seafloor. More than 50 per cent of the pictures have been taken at depths of over 1,000 metres. To our knowledge, about 20 per cent of the species are undetermined; almost half have no common names.

How is it unique?
While there are many marine catalogues of deep-sea animals, this is the first digital guide to be published as a free iBook for tablets. It is also available on the NEPTUNE Canada website as a PDF. The guide includes little-known deep-sea organisms that have been described with the help of nearly two dozen researchers from around the world. This unique catalogue is also a “living book” that will send automatic alerts of updates to readers who have downloaded the application. It will continue to improve over time through the addition of new species, additional photographs and more complete scientific information about observed species.

Why was it created?
Cameras connected to NEPTUNE Canada’s seafloor network have recorded thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of video, creating an image collection that is continually growing. As well, extensive undersea video coverage is captured by a remotely operated submersible on “dives” and streamed live via the Internet. These images are recorded and archived in real time for future use, helping researchers from around the world in their studies.

Without an authoritative reference work adapted to this region, it is difficult to correctly identify species observed during dives. One of the first steps in understanding biodiversity is to identify the organism. NEPTUNE Canada is developing this visual identification guide primarily to help members of the science team known as “dive loggers” improve the accuracy of their observations. The iBook application for a tablet computer is intended to help provide quick reference under poor light or challenging weather conditions.

About NEPTUNE Canada
NEPTUNE Canada is part of the Ocean Networks Canada Observatory, an initiative of the University of Victoria. Located off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, NEPTUNE Canada is the world’s first regional-scale cabled ocean network. Since December 2009, the network has been acquiring live data from instruments deployed in a broad spectrum of undersea environments, from the rocky coast to the deep abyss. Data are transmitted via high-speed fibre optic communications to an innovative data archival system and provided free over the Internet. For more information, visit

A vimeo link to NEPTUNE Canada director Dr. Kate Moran’s introduction (1:30) to the iBook is at
Vimeo link to NEPTUNE Canada Cruise highlights reel 2011
Select hi-res images (jpg) from guide including cover are available on request.


Media contacts

Leslie Elliott (NEPTUNE Canada) at 250-516-1246 or

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Keywords: Ocean Networks Canada, oceans, wildlife

People: Kate Moran

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