New Deep-Sea Pictures: Snailfish, Eels Found in Trench

A new snailfish species and an eel swarm are among the creatures spotted nearly five miles deep in a Pacific Ocean trench, scientists say.

Ghost of the DeepIt's no apparition—this new species of ghostly white snailfish was photographed swimming at depths of 4.3 miles (7 kilometers) during a recent expedition to the Peru-Chile trench (see map) in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. The deepest dwelling vertebrates on Earth, snailfish have been discovered in ocean trenches in other parts of the Pacific. The deepest known fish, found at 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers), are snailfish filmed in the Japan trench in 2008. "The tantalizing thing is we've got a very clear photo of the species," said Monty Priede, director of Oceanlab at Scotland's University of Aberdeen, which co-sponsored the expedition. "No one has ever seen this before, and it's never been captured before." Living so far underwater, the newfound, 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) snailfish can withstand pressures equal to 1,600 elephants standing on the roof of a Mini Cooper, according to Oceanlab. "If you saw that fish in the aquarium you wouldn't say, Wow that's weird," Priede said. "But at a molecular level, in the details of its biochemistry, it is highly adapted in order to survive the high pressure." —Christine Dell'Amore
Feeding FrenzyA swarm of cusk eels, seen attacking a piece of bait in a 2010 picture, were spotted 3.7 miles (5.6 kilometers) underwater during Oceanlab's expedition to the Peru-Chile trench. Although not a new species, scientists had never before seen such a large gathering of the deep-sea eels, Priede said. Such discoveries were possible thanks to a novel, camera-equipped landing platform designed by Oceanlab expedition leader Alan Jamieson. The platform, which rests on the seafloor for up to a day, releases bait that imitates naturally falling food and then photographs whatever the food attracts. "What's interesting is we've never found a location where there's nothing" while using this system, Priede said. (Watch related video: "'Prehistoric' Shark Seen Attacking Deep Bait.")
Deep-Sea Crustacean Crustaceans known as amphipods, including the creature seen above in a 2010 photo, were also photographed in the trench at depths of 4.3 miles (7 kilometers). Many amphipods and shrimp are observed in ocean trenches worldwide, and the animals are part of a poorly understood deep-sea community. For instance, a "big question" for scientists is whether abyssal animals—those living about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep—can invade the hadal zone, the deepest reaches of the ocean at about 6.8 miles (11 kilometers), Priede noted. (See pictures of a purple octopus and other deep-sea creatures found recently off Canada.)
Species SurpriseAnother amphipod species was observed at 4.3 miles (8 kilometers) during the Oceanlab expedition. The Peru-Chile trench hadn't been examined before at such depths, Priede said, which inspired expedition leader Jamieson and colleagues to hunt there for snailfish. "One of the things he was looking for was a species that had been recorded but never photographed alive," Priede said. "But instead he seems to have photographed yet another different species" of snailfish, among other finds. (See pictures of a deep-sea amphipod and other surprising creatures found recently off Australia.)
Deep DiversityOverall, the scientists found a variety of species during the recent Oceanlab expedition, including those seen above in pictures taken at depths between 2.8 miles (4.6 kilometers) and 5 miles (8 kilometers). "Our findings, which revealed diverse and abundant species at depths previously thought to be void of fish, will prompt a rethink into marine populations at extreme depths," the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper reported Jamieson as saying.
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