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April 15, 2011

What lies beneath: Mysterious species in our fascinating oceans


Humpedback Angler Fish (courtesy of Clark)We all know that our oceans are home to a dazzling and diverse array of animals like dolphins, whales, fish and corals. But have you heard of ghost shrimp, giant spiny lobster, yeti crab or xenophyophores? These are just a few of many recently discovered species in our oceans, unveiled by the Census of Marine Life. In a span of ten years, more than 6000 potentially new species have been discovered in this global effort to determine the extent of biodiversity in our oceans.

It seems there is no limit to the extreme environments these strange, brave creatures call home. Many nooks and crannies of our oceans are occupied – including rocky seamount slopes, deep ocean trenches devoid of light, searing-hot sulphurous hydrothermal vents, Antarctic ice shelves, and methane-rich undersea mud volcanoes. A 2009 expedition carried out by Oceana and Fundación Biodiversidad revealed a huge diversity of species on the seamounts of the Canary Islands, including 1 metre-high glass sponges and six-gill sharks.

These new discoveries reveal how little we knew of our watery world – and many more marine frontiers remain to be explored. Unless we manage our oceans in a more precautionary manner, we may never know what riches they contain.

Picture: © Clark and CenSeam