As a biologist, it’s an occupational hazard, though admittedly quite a fun one, to come across new species in your work and have to name them, especially if you are surveying the wonders of the Alaskan deep.
Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have discovered more than a dozen new types of snailfish while surveying commercially important fish species, like cod, in the deep waters off Alaska.
Jay Orr and his colleagues from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the research arm of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, were doing routine surveys using trawler nets along the ocean floor in the Aleutian Trench, 7,800 meters (25,600 feet) deep, when they discovered the surprising variety of the small, soft-bodied fish.
"I sort of knew what I was looking for and what was known out there," Orr told the Associated Press. "The first ones that came up, I saw them right away and said, 'We don't know what these are. These haven't been named.'"
Having previously used larger, more open nets, the researchers realized they could be missing out on some interesting finds deeper down on the ocean floor and switched to a net just 0.6 to 0.9 meters (2 to 3 feet) wide.
Snailfish are soft-bodied, scaleless fish that are distinctive for the sucking disc on their bellies that help them to cling to rocks. They became famous in 2014 when they were discovered swimming at 8,200 meters (27,000 feet) deep in the Mariana Trench, making them the deepest-dwelling vertebrate in the world.
Orr discovered 14 new types of the fish with characteristics not seen before, including a variety that didn’t have a sucking disc, one that had a projecting lower jaw, and even a type that had hardened bone in its head – strange for a fish known for its gelatinous appearance similar to a tadpole.
He even got to have some fun with naming the new species. After spotting a red, black, and white variety with a bulbous nose, which struck Orr as comedic, he named it Careproctus comus after Comus, the Greek god of comedy. Who says scientists don't know how to have fun with their work?