An international team of scientists led by Newcastle University has explored one of the deepest regions of the ocean, the Atacama Trench, which is off the coast of Peru and Chile. In the pitch black Pacific waters, the experts captured rare footage of what is thought to be three new species of snailfish.
“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,” said Dr. Thomas Linley.
“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.”
“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. Without the extreme pressure and cold to support their bodies they are extremely fragile and melt rapidly when brought to the surface.”
The small, translucent fish have been temporarily named “the pink, the blue and the purple Atacama Snailfish.” Video footage shows the fish interacting and feeding around 7,500 meters below the surface of the ocean.
The team managed to catch one of the new snailfish species when it followed its amphipod prey into one of their traps. The single specimen is currently being described by the Newcastle team in collaboration with colleagues from the United States and the Natural History Museum in London.
For the investigation, the team deployed a baited camera system 8,000 meters down to the seafloor, capturing more than 100 hours of video and 11,468 photographs during 27 deployments. In addition to the snailfish, the team obtained some incredibly rare footage of Munnopsids, long-legged isopods which are about the size of an adult hand.
“We don’t know what species of munnopsid these are but it’s incredible to have caught them in action in their natural habitat – especially the flip they do as they switch from swimming to walking mode,” said Dr. Linley.
The research will be featured at the Challenger Conference 2018 this week at Newcastle University.