Researchers encounter bizarre creatures in the Indian Ocean

When the Australian research ship Investigator docked in Henderson Harbor in Western Australia last week, the scientists on board brought samples, photographs and film footage of a previously unknown world with them. The expedition, which was led by the Australian research agency CSIRO, was on the road for more than 35 days. In total, the researchers covered around 11,000 kilometers to study underwater life in parts of the Indian Ocean.

The focus of the expedition was the seabed around the Australian Cocos Islands (Keeling Islands), which are located 2750 kilometers northwest of Perth in the Indian Ocean. The region includes one of two new marine protected areas that the Australian government established in March in the Australian part of the Indian Ocean. The vast area of ​​deep chasms, seamounts, tectonic ridges and coral atolls has been relatively unexplored. “Few geological expeditions have studied the seabed in detail, and much of the region remains uncharted,” said Tim O’Hara of the Museums Victoria Research Institute, who served as chief scientist on the expedition. The expedition was the first to study seabed fauna and bring back samples for scientific study.

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Bizarre creatures from the deep

During the expedition, researchers encountered ancient, massive mountainous landscapes flanked by volcanic cones, rugged ridges, and canyons. Underwater images – up to five kilometers below the surface – also showed a diverse life under water. For example, among the documented creatures is a blind eel, which was collected at a depth of about five kilometers and is covered with loose, transparent, gelatinous skin. The scientists were able to find that the females give birth to live young – something very unusual for a fish.

The team also encountered a pelican eel, which despite a tiny head has a huge jaw and an expandable stomach to allow it to swallow large prey. The eels have a luminous organ on the tip of their tail to attract prey. Another fascinating creature the researchers photographed was a deep-sea batfish moving across the sea floor on arm-like fins. The animals carry a tiny “fish bait” in a small indentation on their snout to attract prey.

Mouths full of long, sharp teeth

The researchers also documented a fish with long, downward-pointing fins and thickened tips that allow the fish to prop itself high off the bottom, as if on stilts. The latter gives the fish the right height to feed on small shrimp floating by in the current. Several of the fish the researchers filmed were typically voracious deep-sea predators with mouths full of long, sharp teeth.

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For example, the scientists took pictures of a Sloane’s viperfish, which has teeth so large that they can be seen even when the mouth is closed. The fish had a series of luminous organs along its underside and a very long upper fin with luminous organs on top to attract prey. The scientists were also excited about a sea urchin, which has a very delicate skeleton that flattens out like a pancake when it comes out of the water. However, the spines should be treated with caution – because they are poisonous. Another exciting find was pumice stones, which the scientists suspect may have come from the 1883 eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa volcano.

Document Australia’s biodiversity

The fruitful journey was part of a mission by the museum’s Victoria Research Institute. The research institute documents the unknown biodiversity of Australia – from dry desert areas to the depths of the sea as in this case. The current expedition has surveyed over 50 sites in Australia’s Indian Ocean territories, bringing back valuable scientific data and samples, said chief scientist O’Hara. “These can be used to describe new species and to understand their ecology and evolution.”

The institute’s collections already contain more than 16 million natural history specimens that have been collected over a period of more than 170 years. O’Hara believes that the number of marine species known from Australian waters will increase significantly again after the evaluation of this expedition.

Incidentally, the scientists also shared the latest discoveries with “up-and-coming researchers”. During the trip, they tuned in directly to classrooms throughout Australia via live stream and also got students excited about the sometimes wondrous finds.

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