The greatest depths of the oceans are known for hiding some pretty strange looking creatures. Perhaps best known are anglerfish, which have appendages tipped with bioluminescent lures that they use to attract prey. When another fish swims up looking for a meal, the angler eats it.
Recently, a research team from Nova Southeastern University discovered a new species of anglerfish in the Gulf of Mexico. They brought up three female specimens, which are “type” specimens in that they define what members of the species look like. They range from 30 to 95 mm long (a little over 1 inch to just under 4 inches), and live about 1,000 to 1,500 meters below the surface (about 3,000 to 4,500 feet, not quite a mile). The pressures down there are immense, in that region about 2,200 pounds per square inch, and its impossible for creatures from those depths to survive coming to the surface. It also helps explain why such creatures are usually pretty small.
The research team, led by Dr. Tracey Sutton, discovered the new species while exploring the deep ocean. As we know so little of life down there, we tend to find new species on most trips. Dr. Sutton and his team are actually interested in studying he effects of oil spills on deep-sea ecosystems, and were recently awarded a grant of $8.5 million from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to do their work. Oil spills are nasty business, and numerous scientists are working on ways to clean them up, or studying their effects on ocean ecosystems. Much of that research tends to focus on areas near the shore, or which contain important fisheries, and for obvious reasons. The ocean is immense though, and there are ecosystems that we can’t easily study which can still be harmed by oil spills, especially as we drill deeper and deeper for harder to reach oil.