'Headless Chicken Monster' to Help Antarctic Conservation Efforts
Enypniasties eximia—a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber scientists have affectionately called the "headless chicken monster"—has been caught on camera for the first time in Antarctic waters thanks to new underwater camera technology developed by Australian researchers.
Footage of the finned sea creature will be used to aid important marine conservation efforts in the Southern Ocean.
"All around the Antarctic there are areas known as 'Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems,' and we're trying to find them so the fishing industry can avoid fishing on them," Australian Antarctic Division's fisheries technician Tim Lamb says in the video below.
Behold the majestic "headless chicken monster" or Enypniasties eximia, spotted recently in the Southern Ocean for t… https://t.co/2crBGtP5nD— antarctica.gov.au (@antarctica.gov.au)1540078286.0
The researchers came across the rarely seen organism as part of a project to explore the impact of commercial fishing on the Antarctic toothfish and the Patagonian toothfish (Chilean sea bass), The New York Times reported.
The finding was made with an underwater camera system developed for commercial longline fishing by the Australian Antarctic Division. With a fishing line, the camera was dropped nearly two miles underwater.
"Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world," Dirk Welsford, program leader for the Australian Antarctic Division, said in a press release. "Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of sea floor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided."
The headless chicken monster has been caught on film only once before in the Gulf of Mexico last year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it spends most of its time on the seafloor, feeding off of surface sediments. Unlike other sea cukes, the headless chicken monster has fins and tentacles to use for swimming or evading a predator. Its other common name is "Spanish dancer."
"From a research point of view, it's very interesting, because no one has seen that species that far south before," Welsford told The New York Times. He added that the discovery of the animal in the Southern Ocean helps scientists understand the species' distribution, and how it might be affected by climate change.
The Australian researchers will present this latest finding and other collected data to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an international body managing the Southern Ocean.
Australia is seeking support for the creation of a new East Antarctic Marine Protected Area as well as two other new Marine Protected Areas.
"The Southern Ocean is home to an incredible abundance and variety of marine life, including commercially sought-after species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for future generations," Australia's CCAMLR Commissioner Gillian Slocum said in the press release.
World-Renowned Photographer Documents Most Remote Ecosystems on Earth https://t.co/mJhcrn17mO @Greenpeace @World_Wildlife— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1495331703.0
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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