Researchers Discover Three New Weird Fish Species at the Bottom of the Pacific Ocean
Building an expensive rocket and launching it into space isn't the only way to find alien life. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 80 percent of Earth's oceans are still unmapped and unexplored, and according to other estimates, about two-thirds of the creatures that live in those waters have yet to be discovered. A team of 40 scientists from 17 countries participated in an ongoing expedition to an area of Pacific Ocean known as the Atacama Trench to learn more about the organisms that call the ocean floor home. With a fish carcass to lure them out, the researchers were able to observe rare deep water creatures in their natural habitat, including three new species.
Nearly 25,000 feet below the surface, the Newcastle University expedition captured footage of three new species of snailfish, which have been temporarily named the pink, blue, and purple Atacama snailfish. "There is something about the snailfish (fish of the family Liparidae) that allows them to adapt to living very deep," said Dr. Thomas Linley of Newcastle University. "Beyond the reach of other fish they are free of competitors and predators...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 problem with studying deep water creatures is that getting them back to a lab is near impossible. The animals have evolved (or not evolved) to live in the dark, highly pressurized environment of the ocean floor. If you try to capture them and lift their bodies to sea level, they will not survive the trip. "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," said Linley about the snailfish. "Without the extreme pressure and cold to support their bodies they are extremely fragile and melt rapidly when brought to the surface." The only real option for now is to observe them where they are or to study non-living specimens, which makes the rare footage captured by the Newcastle team very important.
The Newcastle expedition has been going strong for five years, with approximately 250 deployments of their deep water landers. Fitted with HD cameras, the landers are dropped from a boat and free-fall for four hours until they hit the bottom. Either 12 or 24 hours later, the team sends an acoustic signal down that releases weights so that flotation devices can bring the lander and its traps back. So far, they have recorded over 100 hours of video and taken 11,468 photographs, but given the vastness of the Pacific and the other oceans on Earth, they're still just scratching the surface.