Spotlight: Miles Deep In the Mariana Trench, A New Fish Species Is Discovered

There’s exciting news coming out of the Mariana Trench’s mind-boggling depths. Deep sea explorers discovered a snailfish species living more than five miles — FIVE MILES! – deep in the Mariana Trench. It has been named the Pseudoliparis swirei, and according to this National Geographic article, “…scientists suspect they are unlikely to ever find a fish that lives much deeper.”

mainasnailfishskeletal-from Quartz
This CT imagery reveals the skeleton of a snailfish that is now the deepest living species of fish with a formal name. PHOTOGRAPH BY ADAM SUMMERS, FRIDAY HARBOR LAB, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

But it’s the deep sea, the least-explored part of our earth, so who can imagine what else marine researchers may find. As University of Washington marine biologist Mackenzie Gerringer notes,

“We think of it as a harsh environment because it’s extreme for us, but there’s a whole group of organisms that are very happy down there,” said lead researcher Mackenzie Gerringer, a marine biologist at the University of Washington. Further research in these depths may yield even more weird discoveries. “There are a lot of surprises waiting.”

Read more about this remarkable fish species and how it lives so deep here on National Geographic, here on Quartz and here on Newsweek.

snailfish-Mariana Trench-pic via @NatGeo
This snailfish is about twice as long as a cigar, yet it can withstand more water pressure than 1,600 elephants standing on its head.
 PHOTOGRAPH BY MACKENZIE GERRINGER

Spotlight: Okeanos Explores the Deep Pacific … & You Can Too

This is really cool stuff, folks!

The NOAA research vessel Okeanos is exploring the deep sea in the remote Pacific Ocean this month, and they’re livestreaming it nearly every day. You, too, can explore the deep sea; just click here to livestream at your desk any day through March 29!

AA-Okeanos-flower star_RBrittin
screengrab by R Brittin

In this expedition, NOAA researchers are collecting “critical baseline information about unknown and poorly known deepwater areas in the Howland and Baker Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.”

The ROV dives are planned, weather permitting, most days through March 27, typically from about 8 am to 5 pm WST (March 7 – March 26, from 2 pm to 11 pm EDT).

Here are some snaps from dives earlier this week. The first three are courtesy Rachel Brittin; the rest were screen-grabbed by us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Check out what they’ve found on past expeditions – but a warning – this can be addictive!

NOAA Okeanos past explorations photos, videos, information.

Spotlight: Ruby Seadragon Seen Alive for First Time

“There are rubies in the sea!” and “There be dragons!” exclaimed the news.

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography announced the exciting news that they’ve spotted and filmed a live Ruby Seadragons in the wild, in waters off Australia.

“It was really quite an amazing moment,” said Scripps graduate student Josefin Stiller.

It’s the first time this surprise third species of seadragon has been seen alive in the wild.

ruby-seadragon
Ruby seadragon, Phyllopteryx dewysea; photo Zoe Della Vedova

The Ruby Seadragon was discovered last year by Scripps researchers Greg W. Rouse, Josefin Stiller, and Nerida G. Wilson :

“Last year, Scripps Oceanography marine biologists Josefin Stiller and Greg Rouse, and Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum described the previously unknown Ruby Seadragon from preserved specimens misidentified as Common Seadragons—one of which was collected nearly one hundred years ago.”

In the words of the New York Times:

Since the 19th century, marine biologists had thought that only two types of these enchanting fish existed — the leafy and weedy — until they discovered a third among museum specimens in 2015: the ruby sea dragon.

Now, for the first time, scientists have observed the ruby sea dragon swimming in the wild. It is colored deep red and looks like a stretched-out sea horse with a hump like a camel and a tail it can curl. Unlike its kin, the ruby sea dragon lacks the appendages that help camouflage leafy and weedy sea dragons among the ocean floor’s kelp and sea grass.

Watch the first-ever video of a Ruby Seadragon here: http://bit.ly/2jKQLWZ
(our website technology won’t allow us to post this important video here)

The backstory of this species’ discovery is fascinating, and includes researchers building a 3D model using preserved specimens, in order to envision what they were looking for.  their paper outlining the discovery.

The surprise discovery led to more surprises. The Ruby Seadragon has a prehensile tail, like seahorses. It also is lacking the appendages that other seadragons have.

The hunt for the Ruby Seadragon was complex. Because Ruby Seadragons were believed to live at depth, Scripps partnered with Total Marine Technology, which provided ROV support in the hunt for the new seadragon species. The Western Australian Museum gave researchers access to the seadragon specimens in its collection, which proved crucial in piecing together the puzzle, since the Ruby Seadragon had only been seen dead, and those specimens had been misclassified over time as known seadragon species.

“Until last year, no one had ever suspected a third species of seadragon existed,” said Rouse, lead author of the study. “This discovery was made thanks to the great benefit of museum collections.” And, we would add, the tenacity of the researchers.

Below, the other two types of sea dragons: Weedy, or Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (lower left); Leafy, or Phycodurus eques  (lower right).

 

 

Pic o’ The Week: Bioluminescent anemone lights up the oceans’ watery depths

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Bioluminescence and Vision on the Deep Seafloor 2015

In the watery nooks and crannies of the oceans, in the deepest, darkest trenches and even in the shallower water, bioluminescence lights up numerous saltwater creatures. Researchers around the world are studying the mechanisms and secrets of bioluminescence in the oceans.And in this holiday season, when the days in the northern hemisphere get short and darkness prevails, we turn to the lights of bioluminescence to add light to our days.

This hormathiid anemone was photographed in light and in darkness by NOAA’s Ocean Explorer.

“On the right is the light emitted from the same animal. The emitted light is blue and comes from a mucous secretion. The animal is not actually red, but we briefly shine a red LED on it to show where it is.”

Image courtesy of Sönke Johnsen and Katie Thomas.

Thankful

new_jellyfish-jpg__1072x0_q85_upscale
Jelly in the oh-so-deepMariana Trench, photographed by NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer; photo (c) NOAA
On Thanksgiving, we are reminded of how wondrous and life-sustaining our oceans are. We’re thankful for the world’s oceans and all their creatures and currents, miracles and mysteries.
Jellyfish

Ethereal being
Made of jelly and light
Move through the deep sea’s everlasting night
With a pump and a swish and a beat of five hearts
The jellyfish
Is a work of fine art.

by Sheeda 

Pic o’ the week – ‘sea toad’

A sea toad hanging out, waiting for its next meal to swim by.
A sea toad hanging out, waiting for its next meal to swim by.

NOAA’s exploration vessel Okeanos Explorer recently ventured around the Wake Atoll Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Researchers spotted and sampled deep sea life, from anemones to corals to seastars. And they came across this cherubic-seeming fish, hanging out …..

To conduct their deep-water research, researchers use telepresence technology to transmit data in real-time to a shore-based team of scientists who actively participate in the expedition.

This toad fish was found while researchers were exploring the depths of the Kwajalein Atoll, which is one of the world’s largest atolls. The lagoon inside the atoll covers over 800 square miles.

“As far as we know there’s only one species across the Pacific that looks like this. This is a sea toad or coffin fish. It’s in the same order as the anglerfishes and frog fishes…” comments a NOAA researcher on an expedition video — view it here.

And here’s a very entertaining video of this fish, narrated well by the Okeanos researchers – worth watching!

Photo and video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deepwater Wonders of Wake.

Spotlight: Alexander Semenov, biologist/diver/photographer

Alexander Semenov is a wildlife photographer, with a twist. “I think all the people in the world know how tigers and lions looks like, but only a few ever know about scyphozoan jellies – that they can grow up to three meters in diameter and have tentacles of 36 meters,” says Semenov.

semenov_sea slug

He’s been working lately out of the White Sea Biological Station, in the Arctic Circle at latitude 66 degrees N.

As Wired magazine notes in its excellent article on Semenov:

Semenov’s photographs have been used by scientists, teachers, book authors and encyclopedia editors around the world. His team has identified species that were previously unknown to inhabit the waters of the White Sea, but he says it is rare that his team discovers a new species entirely.

“The important thing is not to find new species but to understand how every creature you already know lives,” says Semenov. “There is not so much information about underwater worlds, because scientific diving isn’t old at all, 60 years maybe. I try to make snapshots of the life-cycles of the animals I see: growth, feeding, copulation, reproduction, birth and death – all these moments can be seen and photographed.”

You can view many of this photos in this Wired article, and more of his photography on BehanceFlickr and his personal blog and stunning website.

Spotlight: Rare nautilus species seen for first time in 30 years

The Allonautilus scrobiculatus has been plying the world’s oceans for hundred of millions of years, literally. Its distinctive shell has appeared in fossil records dating back 500 million years. But it hadn’t been seen in so long that many feared it was extinct.

Then … on a recent expedition off Papua New Guinea, biologist Peter Ward spotted the elusive cephalopod.

“My prior field work in the Philippine Islands … from 2011 to early 2014, has already shown that local populations of Nautilus in the Philippines have been fished to extinction, and the fear was that perhaps the same happened to Allonautilus in Papua New Guinea in the thirty years since it was last seen alive,” Ward wrote for National Geographic.

“Before this, two humans had seen Allonautilus scrobiculatus,” Ward told UW Today. “My colleague Bruce Saunders from Bryn Mawr College found Allonautilus first [in 1984], and I saw them a few weeks later.”

nautilus
A rare Allonautilus scrobiculatus was seen for the first time in 30 years. Photo: Peter Ward.

And below, the rare Allonautilus scrobiculatus, right, swims next to a Nautilus pompilius. Photo: Peter Ward
two nautilus

The expedition, whose goal was surveying nautilus populations off Ndrova Island where Allonautilus was last seen, was sponsored by National Geographic and the U.S. National Science Foundation. Details of the rediscovery were announced in UW Today.

Pic o’ the week: Pelican Almost Becomes Whale Snack

What happens when a pelican gets in the middle of a humpback whale’s lunch?

humpback whales feeding
photo by Kate Cummings, Blue Ocean Whale Watch

 

Journalist Manon Verchot recounts the tale in Audubon magazine,

“A hungry pelican was happily feasting on anchovies when the water beneath began to move. Strong baleen jaws clamped down hard—a humpback whale snatched up the seabird.

“It was evident that the pelican was not happy,” says Kate Cummings, the naturalist and co-owner of Blue Ocean Whale Watch who witnessed the event …..”

“….. Luckily, humpback whales don’t eat large creatures, so they have no incentive to swallow. Sensitive organs in the mouths of whales like humpbacks may allow the whale to differentiate between desired prey and unwelcome visitors.

Cummings has seen incidents like this before. Once, a whale trapped a Pink Footed Shearwater and a cormorant in one gulp. “I also saw a sea lion jumping out of a whale’s mouth,” she says. Each time, the trapped creatures got away when the whale realized what it had grabbed.

In this case, the pelican escaped. Cummings thinks the whale must have sensed it was there because it didn’t fully close its mouth. Before submerging, the whale opened back up and the pelican flew away, seemingly unharmed.”