Did you know ? 70 percent of the planet’s surface is covered by ocean. Yet, humans have only explored about 5 percent of the deep blue. This means there are probably thousands — if not millions — of new and exciting species that will (hopefully) one day be discovered.
The main reason so much of the oceans remain unexplored is because mankind has yet to develop technology which can acclimate to intense amounts of pressure. Advances are being made all the time, however, which is why a team of international researchers recently discovered three new species, all belonging to the snailfish family, at the bottom of the Atacama Trench.
The Atacama Trench is located around the Pacific rim, specifically in areas where tectonic plates collide and plunge. In some areas, the sea floor reaches depths close to 11,000 meters (~7 miles) deep. The Trench itself is almost 6,000 km long and more than 8,000 m deep. It runs along the west coast of South America, near Peru and Chili.
During a recent expedition to the Atacama Trench, the research team deployed two full-ocean depth (11,000 m) capable landers equipped with HD cameras and traps. The baited camera system was deployed 27 times from 2,537 to the deepest point, Richard’s Deep, which is situated over 8,000 meters below. The lengthy process led to more than 100 hours of video and 11,469 photographs being captured.
The footage led to the discovery of three new species of deep-sea fish, all belonging to the snailfish family. The ghost-like looking creatures live in a space totally devoid of light. Furthermore, they thrive under thousands of meters of water weighing down on them, in temperatures just over 1°C (34°F). For now, the deep-sea fish have been temporarily named the pink Atacama snailfish, the blue Atacama snailfish, and the purple Atacama snailfish. You’ll notice that an entire gang of ghost-like fish was caught on film, including a long-legged isopod, also known as munnopsids.
Watch the footage below:
Said Dr. Thomas Linley, an expert on deep-sea fish from Newcastle University, said in a statement: “There is something about the snailfish (fish of the family Liparidae) that allows them to adapt to living very deep. Beyond the reach of other fish they are free of competitors and predators.”
“Their gelatinous structure means they are perfectly adapted to living at extreme pressure and in fact the hardest structures in their bodies are the bones in their inner ear which give them balance and their teeth,” Linley added.
“Without the extreme pressure and cold to support their bodies they are extremely fragile and melt rapidly when brought to the surface. As the footage clearly shows, there are lots of invertebrate prey down there and the snailfish are the top predator, they seem to be quite active and look very well-fed.”
Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment is that the team was able to capture a specimen and bring it back to the surface. By maintaining a pressure-controlled environment, they prevented the jelly-like fish (which lacks any natural structural support) from “melting”. The specimen has since been preserved with help from the National History Museum and is in the process of being described scientifically.