Clusters of paragorgid and acanthogorgid-like corals dominate near 510 meters deep in Wilmington Canyon

Clusters of paragorgid and acanthogorgid-like corals dominate near 510 meters deep in Wilmington Canyon Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research


In the fall of 2020, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) held a three-part “Life in the Deep Sea” webinar series to provide stakeholders with the chance to learn about the region’s mysterious and rarely seen submarine canyons and the unique species that live in them. Webinars were held approximately one month apart in September, October and November, with presenters including scientists from the Mid-Atlantic. In keeping with its mission, MARCO serves as a forum for discussions that educate the public and help states, industries and stakeholders make better-informed decisions. MARCO frequently hosts and collaborates with partners to present webinars on emerging ocean and coastal issues featuring experts from government agencies, the private sector, academia and NGOs. Its “How Tuesday” webinar series focuses on the latest tools and data available on MARCO’s Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. “Life in the Deep Sea” showcased the work of experts from throughout the East Coast, including the University of Connecticut, The Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and Duke University. The series’ large list of attendees spanned a wide geographic area as well. A total of 254 people registered to attend at least one of the webinars, with registrants tuning in from all over the U.S. and abroad. Of the total, 156 attendees were from one of the five Mid-Atlantic states; 76 were from outside the Mid-Atlantic region, including attendees from Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon, Mississippi, Hawaii and other states; and four were international attendees from Canada or Guam.


Webinar Descriptions & Recordings


Life in the Deep Sea: Canyon Predators | September 9

Dr. Peter Auster,  Research Professor Emeritus of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut and Senior Research Scientist, Mystic Aquarium The ecological setting of submarine canyons is characterized by steep environmental gradients (e.g., depth, light, and temperature), patchy distribution of seafloor features, and accelerated flows. These conditions produce biodiversity hotspots, based on multiple community types correlated with depth and seafloor geology, occurring over small regions of the continental margin.  Vertically migrating pelagic species (e.g., gelatinous and crustacean zooplankton, squid, fish) produce dynamic arenas for higher trophic level predators. In this brief webinar, I will review observations of species interactions made via occupied submersibles and remotely operated vehicles in regional submarine canyons, synthesize results based on general ecological principles, and propose future research that would inform stakeholders and decision-makers concerned with conservation and sustainable use of natural resources along the continental margin. Dr. Merry Camhi, Director, New York Seascape, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York Aquarium A great deal of our attention on submarine canyons focuses on deep sea corals and other extraordinary species associated with the seafloor and canyon walls. But the high productivity and hydrodynamics of these unique ecosystems also support diverse assemblages of species throughout the water column. As a group, Chondrichthyan fishes—sharks, rays, and chimeras—of the Mid-Atlantic canyons are known to exploit a wide range of canyon-associated habitats, from the water’s surface to depths of more than 3,500 m. We will explore the diversity and ecology of some of these species, drawing on historical accounts of William Beebe’s early explorations of the “Hudson River Gorge” to recent studies tracking the movements and distribution of highly migratory pelagic sharks. A better understanding of the life histories, distributions, and habitat needs of cartilaginous fishes and their prey within canyon ecosystems is needed to inform management and to protect these biodiversity hotspots along our coast.

Life in the Deep Sea: Canyons, Shipwrecks & Seeps as Habitat | October 5

Dr. Steve Ross, Research Professor, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Center for Marine Science The Middle Atlantic slope (Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape Cod, MA) has long been characterized as a region of numerous submarine canyons.  These range in size from larger than the Grand Canyon to simple ditches.  Most previous research examined canyon geology.  In recent years research cruises have not only documented canyon biology, adding important new information, but have also discovered new habitats (corals and seeps) and produced more detailed maps.  The uniqueness and significance of these submarine canyons and the slope in general are now better understood, supporting that they are hotspots of biological diversity as well as conduits of materials from the shore to the deep sea.  This talk will explore some of the recent discoveries, emphasizing data from Norfolk and Baltimore canyons.  Recent protections for the mid-Atlantic canyon habitats, especially the deep-sea corals, help ensure the integrity of these ecosystems and help to maintain their productive fisheries.

Life in the Deep Sea: Canyons as Whale Habitat | November 5

Howard Rosenbaum, Wildlife Conservation Society, Director of Ocean Giants Program Few people in the tri-state area are aware that a wealth of marine wildlife lies just offshore of NY. For example, did you know that seven species of large whales and a variety of smaller cetaceans can be found in the NY Bight?   But these awe-inspiring animals face current and emerging threats from fishing, shipping, ocean noise, and other potential impacts from offshore energy exploration and development.   WCS’s marine conservation work spans the waters of 25 countries around the globe—including our own New York Seascape, where WCS’s New York Aquarium has been sharing the story of our local ocean legacy with millions of visitors since 1896.   Howard will share insights about WCS’s scientific efforts leading to a better understanding of whales in the NY Bight, and how these and other findings can help protect these iconic species and their most important habitats. Andy Read, Director of Duke University’s Marine Lab A common feature of the deep-water shelf-break ecosystem of the Mid-Atlantic is the presence of submarine canyons that cut across the margins of the continental shelf. These canyons are important habitat features for deep-diving whales because they tend to enhance productivity and aggregate prey. In this presentation I will show how two species of deep-diving whales, short-finned pilot whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales, use Mid-Atlantic canyons. Short-finned pilot whales are highly mobile and individuals traverse north and south along the shelf break from Florida to George’s Bank, foraging in multiple canyons, stopping in each for a week or so. In contrast, the movements of Cuvier’s beaked whales are much less mobile and restricted to specific canyon ecosystems. Despite these differences, Mid-Atlantic canyons are critically important to both species.

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