Marine biologist Sylvia Earle is fond of saying that a teaspoon of ocean water brims with life. She once told me that the sea is full of animals yet to be discovered. That we know less about the ocean floor than we do about the solar system.
I’m mindful of these words whenever we publish news about discoveries in the oceans. Finds seem to be announced almost every week. Some of the most popular stories we have published have been about giant squid or strange new species of fish.
Only last week National Geographic News reported two separate announcements:
- Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said DNA evidence had helped identify 113 new sharks and rays. One of the new fish, the collared carpet shark, is so rare that the only known specimen was found in the belly of another shark.
- Previously unknown shrimps, worms, scavenging crustaceans, and spectacularly colored soft corals were identified on reefs during a study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Watch a video about this below.
The second project was part of the Census of Marine Life, a ten-year initiative to assess global ocean diversity, which has made a number of announcements in recent years.
The “yeti crab,” left, discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, is so extraordinary that a new taxonomic family had to be invented for it.
The new species was found during a deep-sea dive expedition, some 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) off Easter Island.
Living next to hydrothermal vents at depths of 7,540 feet (2,300 meters), the blind white crustacean, named Kiwa hirsute, was also dubbed the yeti (or abominable snowman) crab because of its hairy arms, which support colonies of yellow bacteria.
Read more about this crab and more in the National Geographic News story Surprising Sea Animals Discovered in 2006.
Photograph by Ifremer/A. Fifis ©2006, Courtesy of the Census of Marine Life
Last year we published a gallery of Weird Deep-Sea Creatures Found in the Atlantic. My favorite new animal was the one shown on the right, a glass squid found on an expedition to map an undersea mountain range equivalent in size to the European Alps.
Sylvia Earle says that what we know about life in the oceans is about what aliens would know about life on Earth if they hovered above us in orbit and randomly sent down a camera on a rope to look around.
Looking at what we keep discovering in the ocean depths proves her point.
Photograph by David Shale, courtesy University of Aberdeen