Monday, July 26, 2010

Crazy-looking new deep-sea creatures

"An ocean without its unnamed monsters would be like a completely dreamless sleep."
John Steinbeck

From Wired

Ten new possible species could change everything about the way we think about deep-sea life in the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of the creatures are so strange, it is hard to know which direction they swim or where their mouths are.

The images were captured by researchers from the University of Aberdeen during more than 300 hours of diving with a remotely operated vehicle between 2,300 feet and 12,000 feet deep along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the largest mountain range on Earth, which runs down the center of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and Africa on the east and the Americas on the west.

Three of the species, which look like colorful wavy worms, belong to a group of creatures called Enteropneust, which is believed to be the evolutionary link between backbone and invertebrate animals. Previously only a few specimens of the group, from the Pacific Ocean, were known to science.

“They have no eyes, no obvious sense organs or brain but there is a head end, tail end and the primitive body plan of backboned animals is established,” said Monty Priede, one of the lead researchers on the project, part of the Census of Marine Life.

One of the most surprising observations by the researchers was how different the species are on either side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, just tens of miles apart. “[The two sides of the ridge are] mirror images of each other,” Priede said. “but that is where the similarity ended.”

“It seemed like we were in a scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Pried said. “This expedition has revolutionized our thinking about deep-sea life in the Atlantic Ocean. It shows that we cannot just study what lives around the edges of the ocean and ignore the vast array of animals living on the slopes and valleys in the middle of the ocean.”

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