Marine marvels found in the darkness of the deep

Published on The Independent, by Steve Connor, Science Editor, November 23, 2009.

A rich and surprisingly diverse array of marine animals has been discovered living in total darkness in the deepest parts of the Atlantic where no sunlight ever penetrates. They range from a giant octopus-like creature with eight legs and fins that flap like an elephant’s ears to tiny crustaceans that shine like gold-encrusted jewels.

Marine biologists have been astonished by the range of animals they have found during an underwater expedition that that took them down 5,000m (three miles), where they have now identified 17,650 deep-sea species …

… The scientists used autonomous, unmanned submarines to explore the deepest reaches of the ocean floor, extending down several miles. At between 1.25 and 1.5 miles, the scientists found a bizarre, elongated orange fish-like animal called Neocyema, only the fifth specimen of the species to be caught. Another slow-growing fish living in complete darkness, called a rat-tail, was found a similar depths feeding on crustaceans. The scientists also collected about 680 specimens of microscopic animals called copepods, which live in the plankton, but they were able to identify only seven of them. The rest appeared to be new to science, they said, including one that shone like a jewel with a golden sheen when lit … (full text).

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