A voyage into one of the deepest parts of the ocean has come to an end, and scientists have returned with a huge haul of weird and wonderful sea creatures—including the famous “faceless fish” that made headlines around the world at the end of May.
The scientists collected several thousand specimens, around a third of which are thought to be completely new to science. Some of the weirdest animals returned include a blob fish, zombie worms, flesh-eating crustaceans and a shark with bizarre saw-like teeth.
The mission, Sampling the Abyss, was led by Australia’s Museums Victoria and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). It explored Australia’s eastern abyss, 4km (2.5 miles) beneath the surface of the ocean. This is one of the most remote, least explored environments on the planet and discoveries made there will help scientists understand the biodiversity—and help them to protect it.
Tim O’Hara, chief scientist on the mission, said in a statement: “Australia’s deep-sea environment is larger in size than the mainland, and until now, almost nothing was known about life on the abyssal plain. We’re really excited about the discoveries that we’ve made and are thrilled that we can now share them with the Australian and international public.”
Images released by Museums Victoria, Australia, show the huge diversity of species living in some of the deepest parts of the ocean. They include a little deep sea coffinfish with blue eyes and red feet, the faceless fish and a cookiecutter shark that has neatly serrated teeth and strange eyes that glow in the dark.
Scientists also found a “herd of sea pigs”, little pink creatures that use their tube-like feet to move across the mud, hoovering up microorganisms as they go, and peanut worms, which look a lot like penises.
During the mission, scientists also found evidence of pollution at these great depths—raising concerns about the effects of manmade behavior on these far-flung ecosystems. “We have found [worrying] levels of rubbish on the seafloor,” O’Hara said. “We’re 100km (62 miles) off Australia’s coast, and we have found PVC pipes, cans of paint, bottles, beer cans, woodchips and other debris from the days when steamships piled our waters. The seafloor has 200 years of rubbish on it.”
Scientists will use the data collected to make maps of life on the seafloor, enabling authorities to protect these environments. “We are custodians for this piece of the Earth and it is really important that we have baseline data so that we can protect it from the impacts of climate change, rubbish and other human activity,” O’Hara added.