The bottom of the Atacama Trench is totally devoid of light, just over 1°C (34°F), and has thousands of meters of water weighing down on top of it. It’s no surprise that this alien-like environment is home to some truly alien-like creatures.
An international team of scientists from 17 different nations has recently documented three new species of deep-sea fish, all belonging to the snailfish family, living in the dark depths of the Atacama Trench, an oceanic trench off the coast of Peru and Chile. For now, the fish have temporarily been named the pink Atacama snailfish, the blue Atacama snailfish, and the purple Atacama snailfish. Catchy, eh?
Incredible footage (below) from the depths of the trench shows a gang of ghost-like snailfish feeding on bait, alongside some creepy long-legged isopods, known as munnopsids.
“There is something about the snailfish (fish of the family Liparidae) that allows them to adapt to living very deep. Beyond the reach of other fish they are free of competitors and predators,” Dr Thomas Linley, an expert on deep-sea fish from Newcastle University, said in a statement.
“Their gelatinous structure means they are perfectly adapted to living at extreme pressure and in fact the hardest structures in their bodies are the bones in their inner ear which give them balance and their teeth. Without the extreme pressure and cold to support their bodies they are extremely fragile and melt rapidly when brought to the surface.
“As the footage clearly shows, there are lots of invertebrate prey down there and the snailfish are the top predator, they seem to be quite active and look very well-fed."
The deep-sea oddities were discovered using a submersible lander armed with HD cameras and some bait. To give you some perspective of how deep these things go, it takes up to four hours for the team's camera to free fall to the seafloor, which is close to 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) deep in some areas. They then wait over 12 hours for the locals to take notice and gather.
Most remarkable of all, the team managed to catch a specimen and bring it back to the surface. Since the fish are almost jelly-like and lack any natural structural support, they tend to “blob out” when you bring them up to lower pressures at the water's surface. Fortunately, the team's catch managed to stay in an impressively fit state. With the help of the Natural History Museum in London, the researchers have preserved the snailfish and are now in the process of describing it scientifically.
We know ridiculously little about the world’s oceans. Despite covering over 70 percent of the globe, up to 80 percent of the ocean remains totally unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. As this new discovery tells us, it's far from a dark, desolate wasteland.