Deep beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, scientists have found more than 30 new seabed-dwelling species, from the freakishly blobby to the bizarrely spindly and even a banana-like “gummy squirrel.” The deep-sea weirdos have been reported in the journal ZooKeys.
The new species were discovered during a deep sea expedition involving the Natural History Museum London (NHM) to the abyssal plains of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a 4.5 million-square-kilometers (1.7 million square miles) mud plain between Hawaii and Mexico in the central Pacific.
Of the 48 different species recovered in the search, a whopping 39 are believed to be unknown to science.
Previously, animals living in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone had only been studied from afar using images and video footage. Thanks to a remote-operate vehicle armed with a robotic grabbing claw, the team was able to bring the animals to the surface where they could be closely studied and genetically analyzed.
“This research is important not only due to the number of potentially new species discovered, but because these megafauna specimens have previously only been studied from seabed images," Dr Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, lead study author from the Natural History Museum, told the NHM news team.
"Without the specimens and the DNA data they hold, we cannot properly identify the animals and understand how many different species there are,”
Most of the specimens were collected on the abyssal seafloor over 4,800 meters (15,748 feet) deep, although a few were discovered laying on seamounts at slightly lower depths.
Among the discoveries was a new species of starfish that lazily lays flat on the seabed as if it just got back from a long day at the office. There were also a number of new sea cucumber species, as well as previously undocumented segmented worms, jellyfish, corals, and other invertebrates.
They also saw a few familiar faces on the expedition. One of which was Psychropotes dyscrita, a yellow sea cucumber nicknamed the gummy squirrel, that was first described in 1920. They also observed a species called Peniagone vitrea, another deep-sea sea cucumber discovered by the HMS Challenger expedition in the 1870s.
Just as these kinds of expeditions have revealed time and time again, it looks like life in the oceans’ deep waters is way more diverse than once assumed – and we’ve barely even begun exploring.