Thursday, August 02, 2007

Strange Sea Creatures


And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Scientists back from a three-week probe in the deep waters off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland discovered a surprising diversity more than 2 1/2 kilometres below the surface.

"Not so long ago, these deep waters were thought to be barren, and what we're looking at and finding is that they're quite rich," said Ellen Kenchington, one of 20 scientists who participated in the research mission aboard the coast guard ship Hudson.

This was deep-water fauna, creatures of the inky blackness and the stuff of Jules Verne: The metre-long dumbo octopus (so named for its prominent fins); the xenophyphore, a single-celled organism better known as "the Green Blob"; and the long-nosed chimera.

Amidst the weird and wonderful are three types of coral key to understanding climate change: Primoa, Paragorgia, and Keratosis, also known as seacorn, bubblegum, and bamboo coral respectively.

An octopus with ears like an elephant? Scallops that hang like bats? Yup, they're real and they live off the East Coast.

The creatures were found after Canadian marine scientists fitted the coast guard ship Hudson with Canada's most powerful deep-sea diving robot, and sent it to explore water too deep for humans.

The octopus was spotted on the second dive at 2,500 metres. When the robot got close enough, the researchers could see the metre-long octopus had fins near its eyes.

"It looks like Dumbo the elephant," Kenchington said, showing off some of the more than 3,000 digital images, hundreds of hours of videos and dozens of live samples taken during the research trip.

It was a creature that had never been seen in the Atlantic before, but Kenchington later found out one had been spotted in the Pacific Ocean.

The robot picked up images of many other creatures, including orange scallops hanging from underwater cliffs, and yellow and pink bubblegum-coloured coral.

More than half of the dives were below the 1,000-metre threshold, and they discovered "at least a dozen" species not previously found in Canadian waters. Particularly striking, she said, was the discovery of a type of bubblegum coral far from the nearest known colony of that species. The largest sea-floor invertebrate, bubblegum coral can live hundreds of years and grow at least a metre off of the bottom.

"How did it get there?" Dr. Kenchington mused. "How are they connected to the nearest neighbours, which are hundreds of miles away?"


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