From hermit crabs that chose to live inside twigs instead of shells to sponges that are made from glass, the deep sea of Indonesia is filled with some truly odd critters. A recent expedition to sample these unexplored ecosystems has found that they are swarming with a whole host of species specially adapted to the perpetual darkness and immense pressures.
While the extensive shallow waters surrounding the tropical island of Java might be better known for their crystal clear lagoons teeming with enormous whale sharks and majestic manta rays, the deep waters over the edge of the drop off abound with their own astonishing array of creatures, many of which have never been seen before.
After spending 14 days plumbing these deep-sea ecosystems, researchers have revealed they caught a total of 12,000 sea beasties, with over a dozen species of crabs, lobsters, and prawns thought to be entirely new to science. The team, made up of researchers from Singapore and Indonesia, are now facing the leviathan task of going through their sample and cataloging exactly what they found.
Despite Indonesia being a popular spot for divers from around the world, the deeper waters surrounding the multitude of islands that make up the nation are basically unexplored. To try to fill in some of the blanks, researchers surveyed 63 sites around Java between the depths of 800 (2,625 feet) and 2,100 meters (6,890 feet). And they revealed a treasure trove of species.
Rather than being a barren wasteland as many people expect, the deep ocean is thriving with creatures. The team were able to identify an incredible 800 species of sponges, jellyfish, mollusks, starfish, sea urchins, worms, crabs, prawns, and fish, with over 40 being the first records in Indonesian waters, and a dozen most likely being new to science.
They include a pretty formidable looking chain-saw lobster (Thaumastocheles massonktenos), which burrows into the sea floor some 500 meters (1,640 feet) down. But despite its rather imposing appearance, this blind lobster most likely uses its long, toothed claw for sieving sediment rather than catching prey.
Another oddity of the deep is a really weird looking cock-eyed squid (Histieuthidae), which naturally has one eye much bigger than the other. It is thought to spend its life swimming on its side with the larger eye peering down into the depths to search for food, while the smaller one looks up in case predators are hunting from above.
There were some cast and crew more familiar to those who are keen aficionados of the deep, including the always-impressive giant isopods (Bathynomus), which might well be a new species, the adorable Dumbo octopus (Opisthoteuthidae) with its flappy little “ears”, and the fang tooth fish (Anoplogaster cornuta).
The researchers will now go through everything, and hopefully reveal some more new finds.