10 WEIRD SEA DISCOVERIES
Deep Sea Sundays
Squat Lobster — A strange sea creature was discovered in an unexplored region of the southwest Indian Ocean Ridge off the South African coast in 2011. The squat lobster is a tiny animal, measuring just 7mm from its eyes to its rear edge, and is actually more closely related to hermit crabs than lobsters. While there are more than 900 species of the creature, the species found in 2011 was a deep sea specimen that only feeds on sunken wood, as might be found in timber from shipwrecks. This particular species received quite an honor in 2014 when it was officially given a name: “Munidopsis Mandelai”(myoon-a-dop-sis man-del-eye) … named after Nelson Mandela, the one-time president of South Africa who died in 2013.
Coelacanth (seel-uh-kenth) — Thought to have gone extinct some 65 million years ago, the Coelacanth was discovered live and well in 1938 when discovered off the coast of South Africa. Prior to this event, the animals were known only from fossils. In 1997, a second living species of the fish appeared in an Indonesian market, with yet another living specimen caught a year later. Known as a living fossil, they’re covered with a scaly, thick armor and can weigh around 200 pounds while measuring over six feet long.
One of their unique features is an intracranial joint or hinge located t the back of the skull that allows the fish to open its mouth exceptionally wide. They’re found primarily along Africa’s east coast as well as coastlines of the Indian Ocean and Indonesia.
Hungry Microbes — What’s the longest you can go without eating? In 2012, deep sea researchers discovered tiny organisms when they drilled core samples over 90 feet into the ocean floor, then tested the cores with oxygen sensors. The scientists found that organisms living within the deepest parts of the sediments used oxygen to respire … but they used it at an incredibly slow rate. Less food and oxygen is present the deeper the sediments are located … meaning the less oxygen is consumed as well. It was calculated that these microbes were buried up to 86 million years ago and hadn’t actually eaten since then. When discovered they had barely enough oxygen to sustain them. It’s not a stretch for these little critters to be considered the world’s oldest living organisms.
Underwater River — Known as the Cenote (say-no-tay) Angelita Cave, this so-called underwater river can only be accessed by skilled divers. It’s located on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and was formed over 6500 years ago, after a rock collapse created a sinkhole — or cenote — and trapped both saltwater and freshwater within its fissures. Fresh water from the top of the cave mixed with saltwater from the bottom, creating a thick, misty cloud-like layer of hydrogen sulfide about halfway through the pit’s 180-foot depth. That creates the optical illusion of a river that is certainly surreal, as you can see in these pictures from diver Anatoly (anna-toe-lee) Beloshchin (below-shkin). Once divers pass through the 6 ft layer of hydrogen sulfide, they emerge into the cave’s saltwater environment. The misty cloudlike effect is called a halocline (hallo-kiline), and is often observed in underwater caves situated near the ocean.
Manganese (manga-knees) Balls — In 2015, scientists exploring the Atlantic Ocean were surprised to discover a huge patch of metal balls, some as small as golf balls, with others approximately the size of bowling balls. Turns out the metal balls are actually nodules made of manganese, and are commonly found in the Pacific, not the Atlantic. Scientists noted another difference … the nodules found in the Pacific usually have a flatter shape, while the ones from the Atlantic were very circular. Found at depths of 18000 feet, the nodules are thought to be 10 million years old … but their origin remains a mystery.
The Churro Worm — Four new species of an undersea creature were found 12000 feet underwater off the California coast. Called Xenoturbella (zen-ott-er-bella), they are fuschia colored flatworm-like creatures found on a whale carcass as well as on hydrothermal vents. One of the new species was christened ‘Xenoturbella Churro’, due to its resemblance to the Spanish fried-dough pastry. The four-inch long animal may have another claim to fame: It, along with its fellow species, could be related to us. In 2003, scientists at Cambridge claimed that Xenoturbella might share DNA with humans.
Benthic (ben-tik) Comb Jelly — Found within Japan’s Ryukyu (ree-you-kyou) Trench at an incredible depth of over 23,000 feet (7200 meters), this is the deepest dwelling known ctenophore (ten-uh-fur). The gelatinous organism can measure up to 8 cm wide and up to 20 cm long, and can attach itself to the ocean floor using two long filaments. Prior to its discovery in 2002, many scientists didn’t think it was possible for similar life forms to exist at such extreme depths, because food resources would be so scarce. The very existence of this animal suggests that there’s still much of the region’s ecosystem that remains unknown.
Grand Underwater Canyon — Named Zhemchug (gem-kug) Canyon, this huge underwater formation is located in the middle of the Bering Sea. Also defined as a submarine canyon, or a steep sided valley carved into the sea floor of the continental shelf, Zhemchug (gem-kug) is the largest such formation in the world … and reaching a depth of 8530 ft (2.6 km), it’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, with its deepest point being 6000 feet. The underwater canyon provides an important habitat to a wide range of ocean wildlife, including the Northern Fur Seal and many species of whale.
Deep Diving Fish — In 2010, marine biologists discovered a new type of snailfish almost 23,000 feet deep in the southeast Pacific Ocean. That’s nearly 4.5 miles below the ocean’s surface! In addition, groups of large crustacean scavengers and eels were found in the Peru-Chile trench of the ocean, which runs over 3600 miles and can reach depths of 26,000 feet. One of the deepest locations on earth, the area was previously thought to be completely free of fish. These discoveries might indicate there are thousands more unknown marine animals existing at extreme depths in the world’s oceans. In fact, a new species of snailfish was discovered in 2014 at a depth of over 26,000 feet by researchers using a remote operated vehicle while exploring the Mariana Trench in the Pacific.
The Greater Barrier Reef — The eastern coast of Australia is famous for the Great Barrier Reef … but now there may be a bigger, more spectacular reef on the south coast of the country. Take a look at some of these stunning pictures, and you can understand the excitement. Using a remote operated vehicle, researchers in 2015 explored depths up to 100 meters at Wilsons Promontory National Park in Victoria, Australia. Boulders the size of houses, and spectacular sponge gardens were some of the discoveries made … along with coral fans and huge sea whips. Among the abundant fish species encountered were Australian barracudas, Longsnout Boarfish, and large schools of deep sea perch, known to grow over 2.5 feet long (80 cm). Park officials planned to analyze more footage to determine areas that might be safest for scuba divers.