Life at Sur Ridge

Towering above the seafloor, Sur Ridge deflects ocean currents, concentrating food and nutrients and creating a hotspot for life. Many fishes and invertebrates live on Sur Ridge’s rocky slopes and in the waters above its crests. MBARI researchers and our colleagues from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary have documented more than 260 different species at Sur Ridge.

MBARI’s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are valuable tools for studying the deep sea. Cameras on the ROV Doc Ricketts have allowed MBARI scientists to explore Sur Ridge and record high-definition video of the hundreds of species that call this rocky terrain home. Image: Todd Walsh © MBARI 2009

Diving beneath the ocean’s surface reveals an astonishing array of animals thriving in the waters above Sur Ridge. Delicate jellies, curious cephalopods, and toothsome fishes thrive in the midwater—the open expanse of water between the surface and the rocky slopes of Sur Ridge.

Descend further and discover an abundance of magnificent life on the ridge itself. Neon yellow Picasso sponges (Staurocalyptus sp.) and intricately branched bubblegum corals (Paragorgia arborea) anchor to the ragged rock. A hungry rosy tritonia nudibranch (Tritonia tetraquetra) slowly creeps up a coral’s towering skeleton to feast on its feathery polyps. A scarlet Oregon king crab (Paralomis multispina) traverses the terrain scavenging for food. A mother warty deep-sea octopus (Graneledone boreopacifica) clings tight to the rocks as she broods her eggs.

Predators prowl just above the seafloor, taking advantage of the thriving community sheltered among the corals to find their next meal. A longnose catshark (Apristurus kampae) uses electrosensors in its elongated snout to sense the movements of small crustaceans. A Pacific grenadier (Coryphaenoides acrolepis) sniffs out food hidden in craggy crevices. A California slickhead (Alepocephalus tenebrosus) hovers in the currents just above the seafloor and nibbles on tiny crustaceans drifting by.


Upper-ocean systems
Acoustical ocean ecology
Acoustic instruments
Acoustic fingerprinting
Acoustic community ecology
Acoustics in the news
Biological oceanography
Global modes of sea surface temperature
Krill hotspots in the California Current
Nitrate supply estimates in upwelling systems
Chemical sensors
Chemical data
Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory in Elkhorn Slough
Listing of floats
SOCCOM float visualization
Periodic table of elements in the ocean
Biogeochemical-Argo Report
Profiling float
Interdisciplinary field experiments
Ecogenomic Sensing
Genomic sensors
Field experiments
Harmful algal blooms (HABs)
Water quality
Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)
ESP Web Portal
In the news
Ocean observing system
Midwater research
Midwater ecology
Deep-sea squids and octopuses
Food web dynamics
Midwater time series
Respiration studies
Zooplankton biodiversity
Seafloor processes
Revealing the secrets of Sur Ridge
Exploring Sur Ridge’s coral gardens
Life at Sur Ridge
Mapping Sur Ridge
Biology and ecology
Effects of humans
Ocean acidification, warming, deoxygenation
Lost shipping container study
Effects of upwelling
Faunal patterns
Previous research
Technology development
High-CO2 / low-pH ocean
Benthic respirometer system
Climate change in extreme environments
Station M: A long-term observatory on the abyssal seafloor
Station M long-term time series
Monitoring instrumentation suite
Sargasso Sea research
Antarctic research
Geological changes
Arctic Shelf Edge
Continental Margins and Canyon Dynamics
Coordinated Canyon Experiment
CCE instruments
CCE repeat mapping data
Monterey Canyon: A Grand Canyon beneath the waves
Submarine volcanoes
Mid-ocean ridges
Magmatic processes
Volcanic processes
Explosive eruptions
Hydrothermal systems
Back arc spreading ridges
Near-ridge seamounts
Continental margin seamounts
Non-hot-spot linear chains
Eclectic seamounts topics
Margin processes
Hydrates and seeps
California borderland
Hot spot research
Hot-spot plumes
Magmatic processes
Volcanic processes
Explosive eruptions
Volcanic hazards
Hydrothermal systems
Flexural arch
Coral reefs
ReefGrow software
Eclectic topics
Submarine volcanism cruises
Volcanoes resources
Areas of study
Bioluminescence: Living light in the deep sea
Microscopic biology research
Open ocean biology research
Seafloor biology research
Automated chemical sensors
Methane in the seafloor
Volcanoes and seamounts
Hydrothermal vents
Methane in the seafloor
Submarine canyons
Earthquakes and landslides
Ocean acidification
Physical oceanography and climate change
Ocean circulation and algal blooms
Ocean cycles and climate change
Past research
Molecular ecology
Molecular systematics
SIMZ Project
Bone-eating worms
Gene flow and dispersal
Molecular-ecology expeditions
Ocean chemistry of greenhouse gases
Emerging science of a high CO2/low pH ocean

Research publications

Bessho-Uehara, M., W.R. Francis, and S.H.D. Haddock (2020). Biochemical characterization of diverse deep-sea anthozoan bioluminescence systems. Marine Biology, 167: 114.

Burton, E.J., L.A. Kuhnz, A.P. DeVogelaere, and J.P. Barry (2017). Sur Ridge Field Guide: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Marine Sanctuaries Conservation Series ONMS- 17-10. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD. 122 pp.

Martini, S., L. Kuhnz, J. Mallefet, and S.H.D. Haddock (2019). Distribution and quantification of bioluminescence as an ecological trait in the deep sea benthos. Scientific Reports, 9: 14654.


James Barry

James Barry

Senior Scientist & Benthic Ecologist