October 2, 2000
Alien life in the deep sea will soon be affixed to first class mail across the nation as the U.S. Postal Service issues five 33-cent commemorative stamps of deep-sea creatures this month. Three of the stamps are based on photographs taken by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Biologist Laurence Madin. The stamps go on sale at post offices nationwide tomorrow. A ceremony is planned at the Woods Hole Post Office at 11 a.m. October 3 to mark the occasion.
The five creatures depicted on the stamps represent a fan-fin anglerfish, sea cucumber, fangtooth fish, amphipod and medusa. Madin provided the images of the sea cucumber, amphipod and medusa. The remaining two stamps, the fanfin anglerfish and the fangtooth, are based on images taken Bruce Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Monterey, CA. The stamps will be official unveiled in a ceremony in Monterey today.
According to Madin, who has studied open ocean life for more than 30 years, these animals represent a world few humans have ever seen. “The sea cucumber can grow up to a foot in length; it feeds on the ocean bottom and then swims gracefully up into the water,” Madin says. “The amphipod is related to beach hoppers and sand fleas, but is much bigger at almost six inches long and is completely transparent. Both it and the medusa, a bioluminescent jellyfish that lives throughout the world, are found below 500 meters (1,600 feet) depth. They are only three of an unknown number of animals that live in the open ocean, a region that contains more than 90 percent of the liveable space on our planet. They are all amazing creatures.”
Designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland, the five stamps represent some of the most bizarre and unusual creatures that live in the mid-water region of the ocean. The region begins at about 600 feet, where sunlight becomes too dim for plant life, and extends to about 3,000 feet, where the last bit of light from above disappears. It is still largely unexplored, as is the deeper water beneath it. Madin and his colleagues have pioneered the use of new technologies to study this alien world, and on nearly every deep dive finds new species, many of which can not be recovered due to their large size and fragile nature.
Some live in colonies more than 150 feet long, making them the longest creatures on the planet. To survive in this boundless habitat, the animals have adapted to the darkness, weightlessness and scarce food with bizarre body shapes and unusual lifestyles that differ from creatures than inhabit areas closer to shore.
The U.S. Postal Service is printing 85 million of the deep-sea creature stamps, which can be bought as sets or individually. Other products featuring the stamp images are available at local post offices, including postcards sets, posters and address labels. October is National Stamp Collecting Month.