Indian Ocean: Researchers encountered strange creatures

When the Australian research vessel Investigator docked in Western Australia’s port of Henderson last week, scientists brought on board samples, photos and film footage of a previously unknown world. The expedition, led by the Australian research agency Csiro, had been on the road for more than 35 days. In total, the researchers traveled about 11,000 kilometers to study underwater life in parts of the Indian Ocean.

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The focus of the expedition was the sea floor around the Australian Cocos Islands (Keeling Islands), which are located 2,750 kilometers northwest of Perth in the Indian Ocean. The area includes one of two new marine protected areas established by the Australian government in March in the Australian part of the Indian Ocean. The vast area of ​​deep cavities, seamounts, tectonic ridges and atolls has not been explored. “Few geological expeditions have studied the sea floor in detail, and most of the area remains unknown,” said Tim O’Hara of the Museum Research Institute in Victoria, who served as chief scientist for the expedition. The expedition was the first to study the fauna of the sea floor and to bring samples for scientific study.

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Strange creatures from the depths

During the expedition, the researchers encountered a huge ancient mountain landscape surrounded by volcanic cones, rugged hills, and valleys. The underwater images – up to five kilometers below the surface – also showed a diverse underwater life. For example, among the documented creatures is a blind snake, found at a depth of about five kilometers, covered with loose, transparent gelatinous skin. Scientists were able to discover that females give birth to live young – which is very unusual for fish.

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The team also encountered an eel, which despite its small head has a huge jaw and an expandable stomach to allow it to swallow large prey. Snakes have a luminous organ at the tip of their tail to attract prey. Another fascinating creature that the researchers photographed was a deep-sea bat fish that moved across the sea floor on arm-like fins. Animals carry a small “fish bait” in a small gap on their nose to attract prey.

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Mouth full of sharp long teeth

The researchers also documented a fish with long, downward-facing fins and thick ends that allow the fish to prop itself up high from the bottom, as if on stilts. The latter gives it the right height to feed on the small shrimp that are floating in the stream. Many of the fish that the researchers photographed were typically voracious deep-sea predators with mouths full of long, sharp teeth.

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For example, scientists have taken pictures of a sloan fish with such large teeth that it 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 at the top to attract prey. Scientists were also excited about the sea urchin, which has a very delicate skeleton that flattens like a pancake when it emerges from the water. However, thistles should be handled with caution – because they are poisonous. Another exciting discovery is pumice stones, which scientists believe are from the 1883 eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa volcano.

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Documenting Australia’s biodiversity

The fruitful trip was part of a mission undertaken by the Museum’s Victorian Research Institute. The research institute documents Australia’s little-known biodiversity – from dry desert regions to the depths of the sea as in this case. Chief Scientist O’Hara said the current expedition has surveyed more than 50 sites in Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories, returning valuable scientific data and samples. “These can be used to describe new species and to understand their ecology and evolution.”

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The institute’s collections already contain more than 16 million natural history specimens collected over more than 170 years. According to O’Hara, the number of marine species known from Australian waters will increase dramatically again after this expedition is evaluated.

By the way, the scientists also exchanged the latest discoveries with the “rookie researchers”. During the trip, they tuned classes live across Australia via live broadcasts, and also got students excited about the sometimes fascinating discoveries.

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