Faceless Fish and 200 Years of Trash Found in World's First Survey of Deep Sea Abyss
The international crew on board The Investigator research vessel has pulled up some wonderfully bizarre specimens from a journey to the bottom of the sea, including a "faceless fish" that hasn't been seen since 1873.
The team, consisting of 40 scientists and support staff, are two weeks into a world's first exploration of the deep sea off Australia's western coast, in a mission called "Sampling the Abyss." The month-long expedition, led by Australia's Museums Victoria and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, aims to study abyss life at depths around 4,000 to 6,000 meters.
Chief scientist Tim O'Hara from Museums Victoria told AFP this area is "the most unexplored environment on earth."
"The data gathered on this trip will be crucial to understanding Australia's deep-sea habitats, their biodiversity and the ecological processes that sustain them," O'Hara said in a statement. "This will assist in its conservation and management and help to protect it from the impacts of climate change, pollution and other human activity."
So what kind of otherworldly creatures call the deepest parts of the ocean home?
Since the voyage began on May 15, the scientists have collected bright red spiky rock crabs, puffed-up coffinfish, blind sea spiders and deep sea eels, according to AFP.
"We've seen some awesome stuff," Di Bray from Museums Victoria told Australia's ABC News.
"On the video camera we saw a kind of chimaera that whizzed by—that's very, very rare in Australian waters," Bray continued. "We've seen a fish with photosensitive plates that sit on the top of its head, tripod fish that sit up on their fins and face into the current."
But Bray said the "highlight" was the faceless fish found off Jervis Bay at a depth of 4,000 meters.
"It's this fish with nostrils and a mouth and no face," she explained. "Apparently, it's got eyes way under the surface but really you can't see any eyes."
The last time this fish was caught was in the 1870s by the scientists onboard the HMS Challenger.
"So, it's not a new species, but it's still an incredibly exciting find, and we think ours is the largest one seen so far," a Blogging the Abyss post states. "Although very little is known about this strange fish without a face, it does have eyes—which are apparently visible well beneath the skin in smaller specimens. I doubt they'd be of much use though, so we've decided to call it the Faceless Cusk."
Blogging the Abyss: "It came from 4000 meters below the surface, where pressures are huge, the water is a mere 1⁰C, and the seafloor landscape is pretty barren!"John Pogonoski, CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection.
However, as SkyNews pointed out, there are plenty of other unusual specimens appearing at these depths.
"There's a lot of debris, even from the old steam ship days when coal was tossed over board," O'Hara said.
"We've seen PVC pipes and we've trawled up cans of paints," he continued. "It's quite amazing. We're in the middle of nowhere and still the sea floor has 200 years of rubbish on it."
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.