Underwater Australian volcanoes surprise with a variety of creatures: blind eels that give birth to live young, bat fish and pancake-like sea urchins.
An expedition that examined the underwater world in the Indian Ocean off Western Australia encountered strange and sometimes unknown creatures. Researchers have discovered wondrous animals, especially in the vicinity of some underwater volcanoes.
When the Australian research vessel Inquisitor docked at Port Henderson in Western Australia last week, scientists brought with them samples, photographs and film footage of a previously unknown world. The expedition, led by Australian research agency CSIRO, has 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.
The focus of the expedition was the seabed around Australia’s Cocos Islands (Keeling Islands), which lie 2,750 kilometers northwest of Perth. 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 region of deep chasms, seamounts, tectonic ridges and atolls has yet to be explored.
said Tim O’Hara of Inc Museum’s Victoria Research Institute, who accompanied the expedition as chief scientist. The expedition was the first to study seafloor fauna and bring back specimens for scientific study.
Strange creatures from the depths
During the expedition, the researchers encountered a huge ancient mountainous landscape surrounded by volcanic cones, rugged hills, and canyons. Underwater images – up to five kilometers below the surface – also showed diverse underwater life. For example, among the documented creatures is a blind python, collected at a depth of about five kilometers and covered in a soft, translucent gelatinous skin. Scientists managed to discover that females give birth to live young – which is very unusual for fish. 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 the researchers photographed was a deep-sea batfish that moved across the sea floor on arm-like flippers. The animals carry a small “bait fish” in a small recess on their snout to attract prey.
Researchers have also documented fish with long, downward-facing flippers and thick ends that allow the fish to prop themselves up high from the bottom, as if on stilts. The latter gives the fish the right height to feed on small shrimp floating in the current. Many of the fish the researchers photographed were typically voracious deep-sea predators with mouths full of long, sharp teeth.
The mouth is full of long, sharp teeth
For example, scientists have taken pictures of a sloan with teeth so large 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 on 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 comes out of the water. However, thistles must be handled with care – as they are poisonous. Another exciting find was the pumice stone, which scientists suspect may have resulted from the 1883 eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa volcano.
The flight was part of a mission by the Museum of Victoria Research Institute. The research institute documents Australia’s little-known biodiversity – from dry desert regions to, as in this case, the deep sea. 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.”
Documenting biodiversity in Australia
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 the assessment of this expedition.
By the way, the scientists also shared the latest discoveries with the “up-and-coming researchers”. They broadcast it live in classrooms across Australia during the trip.
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