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
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week