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."