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
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect