Marine marvels found in the darkness of the deep

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Scientists reveal thousands of extraordinary creatures at bottom of Atlantic

A A A

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.

One of the most surprising animals was a rare specimen of a primitive creature called a cirrate, or finned octopod, commonly called a "Dumbo" because they swim by flapping a pair of ear-like fins, rather like the Disney cartoon character. But the particular species the biologists found is now called "Jumbo Dumbo", because it grows up to 2m long and weighs about 6kg, the largest specimen of the type ever discovered, records the Census of Marine Life, the umbrella organisation overseeing the global survey of the oceans.

The Dumbos collected by the scientists were found between 1,000m to 3,000m (0.6 to 1.9 miles) down on the mid-Atlantic ridge, a vast chain of underwater mountains that stretch north-south along the seabed. The scientists also took samples of mud from the seabed and found that it contained a surprisingly rich collection of fauna. Most of these animals are only a few millimetres in size, and they live on the sediments that fall from above, ranging in size from dead plankton to the residue of the carcasses of massive whales.

"To survive in the deep, animals must find and exploit meagre or novel resources, and their great diversity in the deep reflects how many ways they are to adapt," said Robert Carney of Louisiana State University, a co-leader of the deep-sea project. "Some scientists have likened the deep mud's biodiversity to that of tropical forests. In college, I was taught that high biodiversity is a function of habitat diversity, many nooks and crannies. But it is hard to imagine anything as monotonous, nook-less and cranny-less as deep-sea mud," Dr Carney said.

"There is both a great lack of information about the 'abyss' and substantial misinformation. Many species live there. But the abyss has long been viewed as a desert. Worse, it was viewed as a wasteland where few to no environmental impacts could be of any concern. The abyss is vast and best yet, hidden from sight."

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.

"The distribution of species in the deep sea is full of mysteries," said Dr David Billett of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. "In addition to the boundaries caused by underwater topography, ridges and seamounts, there are unseen, and as yet unexplained walls and barriers that determine supplies of food and define the provinces of species in the deep sea. The abyssal fauna is so rich in species diversity and so poorly described that collecting a known species is an anomaly. Describing for the first time all the different species in any coffee cup-sized sample of deep-sea sediment is a daunting challenge."

Mireille Consalvey, of the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said the conditions of the expedition were difficult, with many scientists struggling with seasickness amid high winds and 30-foot swells. "It can be a tough environment down there," she added. "I recall the abject fear when our video-imaging system snagged for 40 minutes on a rockface: the slow, scary process of recovering it, and the shared worry that our valuable recording equipment would arrive at the surface battered and bent. Thankfully, the recorder survived the ordeal better than many of us and yielded brilliant new footage of this remote realm."

Suggested Topics
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'