The depths of oceans are still a mystery and holds species that are yet to be discovered. For the researchers, it is a dream come true with a few species, until now unknown, were seen in new marine parks located 2,500 kilometers (about 1,500 miles) off Australia’s western coast.
“We know the region is covered with massive sea mounts formed during the dinosaur era and we know the region sits at a critical juncture between the Pacific and Indian Oceans,” said Museums Victoria (MV) senior curator of marine invertebrates Tim O’Hara.
The researcher said that they were quite excited about the prospect of discovering new species, perhaps even new branches of the tree of life, which until now have remained hidden beneath the waves in this unexplored region.
MAPPING OF THE SEA BED
The researchers on the research vessel (RV) Investigator mapped the seabed over 35 days using sonar. Their 13,000 kilometre voyage uncovered ancient sea mountains, volcanic cones, canyons and ridges. The extinct volcanoes formed 140 to 50 million years ago were also seen in the sea bed.
The researchers said that sonar revealed Cocos Keeling Islands were twin peaks of a massive sea mountain rising nearly 5,000 meters from the sea floor. A third submerged peak was also identified, 350 meters below sea level.
O’Hara notes that one-third of these species may be new to science. This includes a potentially new type of blind cusk eel, with loose, gooey see-through skin. “These fish have really reduced eyes. In fact, if you see the picture you’ll find they’re like little golden depressions in the skin. They’ve got really loose, flabby, gelatinous skin and they’re incredibly rare,” MV senior collections manager Dianne Bray told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The researchers also noted adorable deep-sea bat fish, which looked like a bit of limbed, well-cooked ravioli with a ‘please love me’ expression on its tiny face. This odd little creature shuffles its way along the seabed on stubby little fin-legs with big ‘feet’.
“These are tiny little angler fish relatives … they’ve got a tiny little lure that sits in a depression on their snout that they can actually move to attract prey and they essentially walk over the floor on their modified arms and legs,” Bray explains.
The researchers also9 came across a fish anchored to the ground with bizarrely elongated stilt-fins, with which it can hover effortlessly just above the sea floor, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey below.
The teams also discovered a hermit crab using a deep-sea colonial zoanthid coral as its shell. These goopy soft corals tend to incorporate sand or other bits of materials that happen to be lying around to give themselves some structure – including crabs it would seem.
Once the vessel returns to the mainland, the sampled creatures will be studied by taxonomists who specialize in different animal groups to confirm their identity or describe new species, using DNA extracted from the animals as a vital source of information.