New Deep-Sea Creatures Found in Atlantic

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
August 5, 2004

New deep-sea creatures have surfaced during a two-month voyage of scientific discovery in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Researchers arrived back in Norway yesterday with a catch that includes fish and squid that may be new to science.

Docking late yesterday, the research vessel G.O. Sars returned to Bergen, Norway, laden with a cargo of strange creatures trawled from the mid-Atlantic abyss. Collected at depths of up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), the haul of 80,000 specimens will now be carefully studied.

The research team says it also gathered spectacular images of seabed scavengers and valuable new insights about life along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR). The MAR, a range of undersea mountains as tall as the European Alps, divides the ocean floor between the Americas to the west and Europe and Africa to the east.

The two-month MAR-ECO expedition formed part of the Census of Marine Life. The census is a billion-dollar venture based in Washington, D.C., that will assess the diversity, distribution, and abundance of the planet's ocean life. Scientists from 16 nations took part in the MAR-ECO research project.

Finds highlighted by the Norwegian-led team include what may be a new species of anglerfish, two previously unknown squid species, and swirling rings of planktonic organisms more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) wide. The team also found straight lines of evenly spaced holes in the seabed that appear to have been engineered by animals.

These discoveries were made using the latest undersea technology, such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), seabed landers equipped with cameras, and hydroacoustic recorders.

"Each time we splashed into the sea with an ROV we encountered wondrous and apparently undescribed animals that behave in unexpected ways," said MAR-ECO project leader Odd Aksel Bergstad, from the Institute for Marine Research in Bergen, Norway.

ROVs revealed that different types of deepwater jellyfish segregate into layers according to depth, Bergstad said. A spectacular array of bottom dwellers such as sea lilies, brittle stars, sponges, and bivalves congregate on coral reefs at depths of up to 1,340 meters (4,400 feet).

Diverse Fauna

"Observed diversity and density of fauna associated with deep coral banks was remarkable," Bergstad added. "At around 2,000 meters [6,400 feet] we observed a great number of traces left by an unknown animal. The traces were almost straight or curved lines of regularly placed perforations, as if somebody used a sewing machine to create this landscape."

The researchers suspect the burrows were the work of a large, blind lobster, a specimen of which was caught during the team's deep-sea trawls. "But how and why can these lines be that straight?" Bergstad asked.

The voyage's findings raise other nysteries. Two specimens of a peculiar semitransparent blue-pink fish, Aphyonus gelatinosus, were recovered. Coated in a gelatinous layer, it had previously been recorded only once in the North Atlantic.

Continued on Next Page >>




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