For those of us who haven't had the pleasure of meeting the odd characters in Chile's newest marine protected area—the Nazca-Desventuradas National Park—here's your chance.
The new park, announced Monday at the Our Oceans conference in Valparaiso, Chile, is a unique melting pot of communities that's already yielded a couple of surprises: Two new fish species. (Read about the largest marine reserve in the Americas.)
Finding new species is "what we live for as scientists," says Alan Friedlander, chief scientist for National Geographic Society's Pristine Seas Project. The project partnered with Oceana, a marine-conservation nonprofit, to promote designation of the new MPA. "You have to be down there with a watchful eye, because even places you think you know will surprise you."
The first mystery fish is a species that belongs to a group called the chimeras. "[It's a] very ancestral group of fishes that are found in extremely deep waters," says Friedlander. The new chimera was found 5,500 feet (1,676 meters) deep. (Read about another chimera species where the males have sex organs on their heads.)
The second new fish species is a kind of perch that feeds on plankton. Scientists know little about the neon orange-and-yellow fish, and Friedlander would love to go back and try to find out more about them. (See pictures of the animal life in Gabon's newest marine sanctuary.)
A Sea of Weirdos
Other weird animals of the Desventuradas Islands include:
—A decorator crab brandishing a round, glass sponge. Decorator crabs will take objects from their surroundings, including other animals, and stick them onto their shells as camouflage.
—Anemones, which use the same opening as their mouth and their anus: "It wouldn't be my first choice on how I would do business," says Friedlander.
—Sea slugs, otherwise known as nudibranchs, which breathe using gills perched on their backs. (Read about these colorful creatures in National Geographic magazine.)
—Animals known as pyrosomes—a member of the same broad group as people and other animals with backbones. Pyrosomes give off a blue-green light, which Friedlander says could be used to identify other pyrosomes.
—Unusual-looking fish known as frogfish lurk in the waters around Desventuradas Islands. These ambush hunters are so well-camouflaged, some mistake them for sponges, says Friedlander. (Watch a frogfish wander a coral reef.)
—Gelatinous, colonial animals known as siphonophores can also be found drifting through the open ocean of the new MPA. These sit-and-wait predators deploy tentacles filled with microscopic, harpoon-like weapons that they use to snag prey.
—Swimming crabs can use legs that have been modified into paddles to zip through the water. When they aren't swimming, they're hiding, ensconced in the sand of the seafloor, waiting for prey to wander too close.
—And finally, a close relative of jellyfish that holds its appendages out in front of it had scientists scratching their heads. "I didn't even know what it [was] on first glance," says Friedlander. Once he realized what he was seeing, he knew it was a rare and exciting find.
The chief scientist sees something new every time he jumps into the water, but it's never enough.
"We don't really understand how these animals behave and live underwater," Friedlander says, "and we need to because you can't protect what you don't know."
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