October 15th, 2010
11:54 AM ET

New fish species found deep below ocean surface

The ghostly white snailfish was found September 10 in the South Pacific.

Scientists have discovered a new species of fish living almost 4 1/2 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

The ghostly white snailfish was found September 10 in the Peru-Chile trench in the South Pacific by an international team of marine biologists led by Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. The scientists also found cusk-eels and crustaceans living in the trench off the west coast of South America. Those creatures had never before been observed at such depths, where sunlight never penetrates and water pressure is almost 10,000 pounds per square inch.

“Our findings, which revealed diverse and abundant species at depths previously thought to be void of fish, will prompt a rethink into marine populations at extreme depths,” said Jamieson, who led researchers from Japan and New Zealand in the project.

The researchers discovered the creatures during a three-week expedition during which they took more than 6,000 images at depths between 4,500 and 8,000 meters (15,000 to 26,000 feet).

The most recent mission – August 31 to September 20 - was the seventh in three years by a collaborative research project among the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab, the University of Tokyo’s Ocean Research Institute and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research.

Previous expeditions had identified another species of snailfish in deep-sea trenches off Japan and New Zealand.

Scientists found large shrimp-like crustacean scavengers in abundance.

“To test whether these species would be found in all trenches, we repeated our experiments on the other side of the Pacific Ocean off Peru and Chile, some 6,000 miles from our last observations,” Jamieson said. “What we found was that indeed there was another unique species of snailfish living at 7,000 meters — entirely new to science, which had never been caught or seen before.”

Jamieson said scientists also observed cusk-eels in a “feeding frenzy that last 22 hours” and large shrimp-like crustacean scavengers in abundance in the trench.

“It begs the question of why and how they can live so deep in this trench but not in any other,” said Niamh Kilgallen, an expert on the creatures at the New Zealand institute.

“These findings prompt a re-evaluation of the diversity and abundance of life at extreme depths," Jamieson said.

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soundoff (495 Responses)
  1. John

    whoa..and i thought my ass was pale

    October 15, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Perilous

    How beautiful! 😀

    October 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. wirehead

    sperm on steroids

    October 15, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. james

    Everything we need to live well all over the world is right here on the planet....we just havent discovered it yet.

    October 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Theron

    It looks like an albino version of the little staghorn sculpins ("bullheads") we catch all along the CA coast. Not eating fish, those. I hear they'll give you Neptune's Revenge.

    October 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ricardo

    muito interessante

    October 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Harvey Wallbanger

    We are finding new species right and left. I wonder how many go extinct due to our activities before we notice them.

    Every time a species goes extinct, its like knocking a brick out of a building. Knock one out and the building still stands; knock two out and the building still stands. Knock enough of them out and the building collapses and we go extinct.

    October 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. acaveman

    In Thailand we worship this fish and pray for a lottery number. Seriously!

    October 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hillbilleter

    I wonder if, when they're brought to the surface with its 14 or so ppi of pressure, they will expand to fill the whole skillet?

    October 15, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Fishbone

    Give me some butter and some french fries on the side! Yum!

    October 15, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Fishbone

    Go 2 miles left, 1 mile down and 1/4 east, you'll see the mermaids next!

    October 15, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Matt

    it looks quite similar to a Chimera fish, a close relative of sharks. The lack of pigment would suggest to me this animal is younger evolutionarily speaking, as the pigmentations likely vanished over generations of fish breeding in an environment without one photon of light. Very cool.

    October 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JNCali

    I bet Chuck Norris already knew about this fish!

    October 15, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • dudeman

      Hes already eaten one

      October 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Greg

    uh, Harvey......it evolved to live under extreme pressure......don't you think it would die at "our" pressure regardless? Or we could try the experiment in reverse......let us put Harvey in a pressure tank and slowly ramp it up to 10,000 PSI.

    October 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harvey Wallbanger

      According the Guiness, the record depth reached by a scuba diver is about 1040 feet where the pressure would be roughly 600 pounds per square inch. Navy volunteers have been taken down to more than twice that far in pressure chambers. From what I understand, the maximum pressure these volunteers were subjected to is classified.

      The immediate problem they ran into was the air was so dense it took extreme effort to breathe. Of course long term effects are not likely to be healthy.

      The bottom line is we did not evolve to live in an environment of over a thousand psi, but we can; at least for short periods. The same is going to be true of marine life, with care it can be taken to other depths alive. Granted it might not live long, but it can be done.

      There are also forms of marine life that have evolve migrate up and down many thousands of feet; whales are a familiar example.

      October 15, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Don, Ellicott City, Maryland

    You people are sick, Sick, SICK!!!! Funny, as hell, BUT SICK!!!

    October 15, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
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