New Trap May Take Deep-Sea Fish Safely Out of the Dark

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According to Drazen, there are several applications for the high-pressure trap. His specific interests lie in the metabolism of the deep-sea animals as compared to their surface dwelling cousins. He is also intrigued by their pressure tolerance.

"When we yank up species they undergo large pressure changes and usually they don't do well," he said. "But what would happen if we slowly acclimated them to lower pressures, what would their capacity be?"

Other scientists are interested in studying things like how sensitive these animals' eyes are to light and what sort of other stimuli they respond to.

"Of course, if we actually manage to acclimate fish to atmospheric pressure, then the side benefit will be that some of the strange, bizarre-looking animals could be on display," Drazen said.

Aquarium Display

The potential to acclimate deep-sea fish to atmospheric pressure is particularly exciting to Seidel. If successful, deep-sea fish could be displayed in the aquarium's exhibit on Monterey Canyon, a more than 10,000-foot-deep (3,000-meter-deep) canyon in the Pacific Ocean near Monterey.

The exhibit opened in the late 1990s, and more than 60 different species are on display, but none of them come from water deeper than 3,280 feet (1,000 meters).

Seidel would like to display fish such as the rattail, a species that he says is the "real ambassador" of the deep sea. The fish can survive at depths up to 19,700 feet (6,000 meters) and have large heads and mouths with long, tapering tails. Some species weigh up to 18 pounds (8 kilograms) and can grow 6 feet (1.8 meters) long.

"We also know they are very sensitive to pressure," Seidel said. "We think that with a trap like Jeff's we'll be able to capture an animal and slowly, over the course of days or weeks, acclimate it to one atmosphere pressure and then, potentially, be able to display it."

The aquarium has also done some research and development on pressurized tanks to display fish, but a window on such a system has to be so small that only one or two people can look into a tank at a time.

So, will Drazen's trap be a success? Will deep-sea researchers successfully acclimate a rattail to atmospheric pressure?

"These animals are like Martians. They live in an environment so different from where we live," Seidel said. "We are just starting to understand what it takes to keep these animals alive. We are doing pioneering work. It's hard to say if we'll be successful or not."

For more news on oceans, scroll down.

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