In a recent voyage to one of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean, scientists have turned up something fishy: Numerous rare species of fish, as well as some new to science—including the oddly named eelpout. (Related pictures: “Odd Sea Creatures Found at Volcanoes, Canyons.”)
A joint expedition between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), a New Zealand ocean-research company, and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, set out on the RV Kaharoa to survey the seafloor of the southwestern Pacific.
The boat traveled to the Kermadec Islands (map), located halfway between New Zealand’s North Island and the country of Tonga. The islands are located near the Kermadec Trench, which plunges over 32,963 feet (10,047 meters) below the ocean’s surface and is one of the deepest points on Earth.
Surveying life so far beneath the surface is no easy task. In this expedition, the scientists used a combination of baited fish traps and cameras that they let fall to the ocean floor. Over seven days, the scientists collected over a hundred specimens and took more than 6,500 photos.
“The amount of data recovered during the survey was considerable. A lot can be learnt and achieved by using fairly basic equipment in the deep sea,” voyage leader Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen said in a statement.
Eelpouts and Rattails
Besides the eelpout—a long, eel-like fish that frequently lives at the bottom of the ocean—the researchers also found fish that hadn’t been known to live in this area of the Pacific, as well as a fish that hadn’t been seen in the area in a century.
For instance, first caught off New Zealand in the 1870s, the cosmopolitan rattail (Coryphaenoides armatus) has been spotted at a number of deep-ocean sites around the world, but researchers hadn’t seen it near New Zealand since its initial discovery. (Test your knowledge of the ocean’s extremes.)
“A voyage such as this is testament to how feasible scientific research in the deep sea has become. It is no longer the inaccessible, out-of-reach, part of the world it once was,” Jamieson said in a statement.
“The technological challenges of the past no longer exist, and shouldn’t limit our responsibility to learn about and understand the deep sea to help ensure the long term health of the deep oceans, one of the largest environments on earth.”
In the Shadow of a Supergiant?
The scientists also surveyed a large number of amphipods, a type of crustacean that lacks a hard outer shell. In 2012 in the same area, the team discovered a “supergiant” amphipod that was ten times larger than other known species.
“The results from this deep exploration are giving us a much better understanding of biodiversity in the deep sea around New Zealand, and enable us to better assess potential risks to the ecosystem from future climate change and even human activities which may include seabed mining,” NIWA’s principal scientist Malcolm Clark said in a statement.
Samples of the specimens will be housed at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum in Wellington.