If there was such a thing as an underwater monster show, then this would be it. Scientists at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London have discovered a mysterious menagerie of marine megafauna at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and dozens of strange creatures may be species unknown to science.
With the help of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) during the summer In 2018, scientists recovered 55 specimens hidden on the western edge of an abyss located between Hawaii and Mexico, about 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) below the sea surface. Of this assemblage of ocean oddities, seven have recently been confirmed as new species; the researchers’ findings were published July 18 in the journal Zoo Keys (opens in a new tab).
While the eastern side of the chasm has been explored fairly regularly, its western portion, which is known as the Pacific Clarion-Clipperton area and includes several nearby seamounts (seamounts), is less accessible. and has therefore remained largely unexplored, making it a privileged place to discover new species.
“About 150 years ago, the [HMS] Challenger Expedition explored this area, but as far as I know there haven’t been many studies done since then,” said Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, NHM biologist in the Department of Life Sciences and lead author of the paper. study. “This part of the ocean has barely been touched.”
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During the 2018 expedition, scientists more than made up for lost time. One after another, each new creature they discovered was as fascinating as the last: from a rubber band, banana-shaped sea cucumber known as the gummy squirrel (Psychoropotes longicauda) – the individual they found stretched nearly 2 feet (60 cm) long – to a sea sponge of the genus Hyalonemawhose body resembled a tulip.
Among the potential new species that scientists discovered, the one that caught Bribiesca-Contreras’ attention was a type of coral in the Chrysogorgy gender. Its pale orange polyp resembled that of C. ablution, a species usually found in the Atlantic Ocean. But researchers later identified it as a new species that has yet to be named. This is the first time that such a coral has been discovered in the Pacific.
“At first we thought they were the same species, but after further molecular work we learned that they were morphologically different,” Bribiesca-Contrerasshe said. “One thing that always strikes me is that a lot of these life forms that we see haven’t changed much over millions of years, which is crazy to think. [about]”, she said. “A lot of these species we’ve seen as fossils, and they look exactly alike now.”
Many of the bizarre adaptations of these deep-sea freaks have persisted for so long because they improve the animals’ chances of survival in a very harsh environment, Bribiesca-Contrerasshe added.
“Where they live so deep in the ocean can be difficult,” she said. “There is no light, their bodies are resisting crushing pressure and there is little food available.”
Prior to the NHM expedition, many of these animals had only been seen in photographs or video, or were known from their fossilized remains. This mission allowed scientists to study the specimens as they roamed freely in their ocean habitat and later in the lab. Such surveys allow scientists to better understand remote and untouched deep-sea ecosystems – an important goal as the deep-sea mining industry continues to expand around the world.
“We really need to understand this ecosystem so we can develop conservation plans,” she said. “At this point, the little information we have about this environment and the species that live there makes it very difficult to know how damaging mining could be.”
Originally posted on Live Science.