Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Scientists discover bizarre deep sea creatures

Australian scientists have discovered never-seen-before prehistoric marine life in the depths of the ocean below the Great Barrier Reef, the University of Queensland said Wednesday.

Ancient “six-gilled” sharks, giant oil fish, swarms of crustaceans and many unidentified fish – all of which look worthy of a science-fiction film – were among the astounding marine life caught on camera some 1,400 meters (4,593 feet) below sea level.

The team, led by Justin Marshall, also collected footage of the Nautilius, a relative of the octopus that still lives in a shell as they have done for millions of years. Team members used special light-sensitive, custom-designed remote controlled cameras that sat on the ocean floor below the Osprey Reef.

“As well as understanding life at the surface, we need to plunge off the walls of Osprey to describe the deep-sea life that lives down to 2,000 meters, beyond the reach of sunlight,” Marshall said in a statement.

“We simply do not know what life is down there, and our cameras can now record the behavior and life in Australia’s largest biosphere, the deep-sea.”

Marshall told Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper that he is now working with taxonomists and experts from around the world to identify these creatures.

"If you go down that deep, you are going to find new species," he told the paper.

Researcher Andy Dunstand said learning about these creatures’ primitive eyes and brain could help neuroscientists better understand human vision.

Marshall also said the sea creatures might help researchers better understand brain disorders, which lead to conditions such as epilepsy, explaining that most knowledge on how nerve cells function and communicate was first pioneered through work on giant squid nerve cells.

Deep sea marine life – and the lack of understanding of it – as well as the challenges of working at such depths have been thrust into the national spotlight in recent weeks, as the United States debates the merits of drilling for oil in increasingly deeper waters following the oil disaster off the Gulf of Mexico.

"I think it's reasonable to say we've seen more of the moon than the deep sea," Lisa Levin, a professor of biological oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told CNN.com earlier this month.

The unfolding scientific mysteries of the deep are reason enough for some marine biologists to say that we should not be drilling for oil at such depths.

"We have a tendency to wreck things before we even discover them," Levin said.


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