New deep-sea denizens found in Australia

January 18th, 2009 - 1:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 18 (DPA) Marine biologists working off Australia’s south coast were astounded when the cameras on their submersible spotted millions of anemones and sea spiders living in a trench 4 kilometres below the surface.”They had never even been observed before,” Ron Thresher from the Australian government’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) said in a statement released Sunday.

“The entire bottom was covered in these things as far as you can see, and it was just completely unexpected to see this huge dominant community down there,” he explained.

The researchers used a remotely operated submarine about the size of a small car to take photographs and collect samples in the Tasman Fracture, a crack in the earth’s crust off the coast of the island state of Tasmania.

“A thing that was really surprising was the diversity of life down there,” Thresher said. “We really didn’t know what to expect in these really deep areas. It could have been anything from bare mud to lush communities. It was really a shot in the dark.”

It was the first time that lifeforms at this depth in Australia’s oceans had been studied.

Sea spiders are about 30 centimetres in diameter, look like land spiders but are unrelated. The purple-spotted sea anemones were also a species not discovered before.

There were also carnivorous sea squirts 50 centimetres tall that trapped small fish. Most of the other sea squirts filter their feed rather than actively seek it.

Most of the funding for the four-week research trip came from the National Science Foundation in the United States.

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