More than a mile below the icy surface of Antarctic waters scientists have discovered an amazing world of giant sea creatures, including spiders as large as dinner plates and jellyfish with tentacles that stretch more than half the length of a London bus.
They live in a dark and mysterious wilderness of thick sea grasses and coral gardens that are teeming with creatures never seen before – huge worms, giant prawns and massive, creepy crabs.
Many of the marine animals hauled to the surface and landed on the decks of the research ship Aurora Australis have never been seen before and will now be sent to universities and museums around the world so their relationship to other known creatures can be assessed.
Tissue sampling and DNA will be used in the tests, but voyage leader Martin Riddle said when he arrived back in Hobart, Tasmania, yesterday that he believed much of his catch would be totally new species.
“With us we had some of the world’s experts on Antarctic fish and they were completely, completely flabbergasted at the sight of some of the fish that came on board – they were unable to name them,” said Dr Riddle after the census of the South Pole’s marine life.
“The fish had fins in various places. They had funny, dangly bits around their mouths.
“Many of them had very large eyes, although what they are going to use them for where this is no light I couldn’t tell you. But they are very strange-looking fish.”
In some places, he said “every inch of the sea floor is covered in life”.
Giantism, he said, was “very common in Antarctic waters”, where his team had even found deep gouges in the sea floor, caused by icebergs scraping the coral” as they floated by.
“Some of the video footage we have collected is really stunning – it’s amazing to be able to navigate undersea mountains and valleys and actually see what the animals look like in their undisturbed state.”
The scientific team used three ships to trawl for life in 30,000 square miles off the east of the Antarctic continent.
Dr Riddle said he and his team made the voyage “with certain expectations” but they were totally exceeded.
“What we found just blew me away and made me realise just how really important it is to document all this before the changes that we’re seeing take effect, ocean acidification among them.”