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
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Spotlight: A Golden Age of Ocean Exploration

You’re living in a golden age in deep sea exploration. There have been myriad deep-sea explorations underway this year, from NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer’s  expeditions in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to EV/Nautilus‘ seafloor mapping and exploration in the Pacific Ocean.

And thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can tune in and watch much of this exploration on your computer. And even stream them onto your smart TV.

NOAA’s Okeanos is doing daily live-dives in the Musicians’ Seamount through September 30. Tune in!

And also through September 30, the E/V Nautilus, a project of the Ocean Exploration Trust, is conducting a seafloor mapping expedition in the Pacific Ocean, between the Pacific Northwest and San Pedro, California, focusing on areas within the US Exclusive Economic zone. Tune in here! Click that link to also see the calendar of future EV/Nautilus explorations.

Just one thing the E/V Nautilus crew saw in an expedition earlier this years – a mysterious purple orb:

Using modern tech including microCT scanning and RNA sequencing, the E/V Nautilus team identified this as “very likely” a new species of velutinid.

Every one of these ocean exploration forays is likely to see mysterious creatures, and indeed, new species. NOAA Okeanos’ recently saw this seastar, which starfish expert

seastar-@echinoblog-Okeanos musicians 2017-09-22

Christopher Mah says is “likely a new species.”

And you can check out news and photos from their past expeditions – it’s a wealth of discovery:

10 greatest sightings, so far, from NOAA’s exploration of the deepwater Pacific

jellyfish-NOAA Okeanos-Musicians Seamount 2017

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.

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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).

 

 

Spotlight: The Ross Sea

The news this past week was victorious. A coalition of twenty-four nations and the European Union declared one and a half million square kilometers of sea around Antarctica, known as the Ross Sea, as protected area. Of that, over one million square kilometers will be set aside as a no-take “general protection zone,” where fishing will be prohibited.

ice-ross-sea

The Ross Sea may be remote for humans, but it’s critically important to the health of the world’s oceans. In 2008, researchers determined the Ross Sea to be “the most pristine piece of the ocean left on Earth.”

The Guardian notes:

“The Antarctic protections had been urgently sought because of the importance of the Southern Ocean to the world’s natural resources. For example, scientists have estimated that the Southern Ocean produces about three-quarters of the nutrients that sustain life in the rest of the world’s oceans. The region is also home to most of the world’s penguins and whales.

The Ross Sea is a deep bay in the Southern Ocean that many scientists consider to be the last intact marine ecosystem on Earth – a living laboratory ideally suited for investigating life in the Antarctic and how climate change is affecting the planet.”

National Geographic notes:

“South of New Zealand and deep in the Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean, the 1.9 million square-mile Ross Sea is sometimes called the “Last Ocean” because it is largely untouched by humans. Its nutrient-rich waters are the most productive in the Antarctic, leading to huge plankton and krill blooms that support vast numbers of fish, seals, penguins, and whales.”

ross-sea-map

Conservationists around the globe hailed the designation of this area, which is now the world’s largest marine protected area.

“This landmark decision represents the first time that nations have agreed to protect a huge area of the ocean that lies beyond the jurisdiction of any individual country and shows that CCAMLR takes its role as protector of Antarctic waters seriously.” –Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean work for the Pew Charitable Trusts

penguins-ross-sea

Spotlight: marine debris – as ocean art

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” ~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

penguin face - washed ashore

Garbage in our oceans. It’s a huge problem. Marine debris comes in all forms, and is alarmingly plastic. It’s impossible to fully quantify the scope of the problem. A year ago, National Geographic estimated  there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean- “Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”

While citizens take their own action to clean up what they can of the harmful debris choking our oceans and call for larger actions, the artists at Washed Ashore create stunning ocean art from the debris they clean up.

As PBS NewsHour pointed out,

“In six years, Haseltine Pozzi {Lead Artist and Executive Director at Washed Ashore} and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.”

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As Washed Ashore says, “The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans. Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food.”

The hard-working folks at WashedAshore calculate the sheer impact of their work so far:

  • 90% of marine debris is petroleum based
  • 95% of all debris collected is used in the artwork
  • 300+ miles of beaches cleaned
  • 60+ sculptures have been created
  • 38,000 pounds of marine debris has been processed
  • 14,000+ hours have been contributed by volunteers
  • 10,000+ volunteers have participated

Washed Ashore is on exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC through early September. Check their exhibit calendar for future exhibit locations.

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.