The first-ever survey to explore and catalog the creatures living in the abyssal depths off the coast of Australia has come back with a bumper crop. Out of 100 species of fish the team have managed to identify, they reckon that at least five are completely new to science.
We’ve already had a sneak peek at a couple of the weird critters that the researchers have brought up from the deep, not least the strange featureless faceless fish that was widely shared last year. But they were not alone in the crushing depths and deep-sea canyons, and now researchers have begun the monumental task of going through them all and cataloging them.
“The abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering half the world’s oceans and one-third of Australia’s territory, but it remains the most unexplored environment on Earth,” explained Alistair Graham, manager of the Australian National Fish Collection. “The survey collected some very rare and unusual species, and represents one of the deepest collections of fishes from Australian waters.”
In total, the team of scientists collected an impressive 42,747 fish and invertebrate samples during their voyage on the research ship Investigator last year, which over the period of a month sampled the ocean down to depths of up to 4,800 meters (15,750 feet). Of the 100 fish species identified, it is thought that at least 10 percent are new records for Australian waters, while 5 percent are most likely entirely new to science.
They include not only the freaky faceless fish, but also a bioluminescent cookie-cutter shark that uses its serrated teeth to gouge out chunks of flesh from other living creatures, formless blobfish, terrifying-looking lizard fish, and the more graceful tripod fish, which sits on the seafloor on its stilt-like fins waiting for food to come to it.
The diverse group of scientists spent much of their time trying to process the catch on board as it came in, identifying, photographing, extracting DNA samples, and preserving the specimens. Many of them have now met back up again in Hobart, Tasmania, to continue their work and refine what they first discovered while out at sea.
With many of the specimens so rare, and some never before seen, the undertaking is truly an international one, with fish being sent to Europe to be compared with other examples from different deep-sea regions.
“The discoveries provide us with a glimpse into how our marine fauna fits into the interconnected abyssal environment worldwide and for the scientists, adds another piece to the puzzle of what affects evolution in the deep sea,” said ichthyologist Dr Martin Gomon.