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Over 30 Weird New Deep-Sea Species Found On Pacific Seabed

Among the discoveries was a new species of starfish that lazily lays on the seabed as if just back from a long day at the office.

author

Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockJul 28 2022, 07:04 UTC
Yellow sea cucumber on the sea floor that looks a bit like a babana and a lot like something ruder
Psychropotes dyscrita, or the “gummy squirrel”. Image courtesy of © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA

Deep beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean, scientists have found more than 30 new seabed-dwelling species, from the freakishly blobby to the bizarrely spindly and even a banana-like “gummy squirrel.” The deep-sea weirdos have been reported in the journal ZooKeys.

The new species were discovered during a deep sea expedition involving the Natural History Museum London (NHM) to the abyssal plains of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, a 4.5 million-square-kilometers (1.7 million square miles) mud plain between Hawaii and Mexico in the central Pacific. 

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Of the 48 different species recovered in the search, a whopping 39 are believed to be unknown to science. 

A purple sea cucumber on the sea floor with a robotic hand approaching it about to yoink it
Psychropotes verrucicaudatus, a purple previously known species of deep-sea holothurian, about to be yoinked by the robot hand. Image courtesy of DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA


Previously, animals living in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone had only been studied from afar using images and video footage. Thanks to a remote-operate vehicle armed with a robotic grabbing claw, the team was able to bring the animals to the surface where they could be closely studied and genetically analyzed.

“This research is important not only due to the number of potentially new species discovered, but because these megafauna specimens have previously only been studied from seabed images," Dr Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, lead study author from the Natural History Museum, told the NHM news team

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"Without the specimens and the DNA data they hold, we cannot properly identify the animals and understand how many different species there are,”

A dark purple frilly sea cucumber
A number of new sea cucumber species were found in the deep sea expedition. Image courtesy of © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA


Most of the specimens were collected on the abyssal seafloor over 4,800 meters (15,748 feet) deep, although a few were discovered laying on seamounts at slightly lower depths. 

Among the discoveries was a new species of starfish that lazily lays flat on the seabed as if it just got back from a long day at the office. There were also a number of new sea cucumber species, as well as previously undocumented segmented worms, jellyfish, corals, and other invertebrates. 

An extremely thin, flat orange starfish on the sea floor, looks a bit like a steam roller has gone over it
Why so sad? This Zoroaster starfish species was previously unknown to science. Image courtesy of © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA


They also saw a few familiar faces on the expedition. One of which was Psychropotes dyscrita, a yellow sea cucumber nicknamed the gummy squirrel, that was first described in 1920. They also observed a species called Peniagone vitrea, another deep-sea sea cucumber discovered by the HMS Challenger expedition in the 1870s.

A strange see-through sea cucumber, looks a bit like a ghost
Peniagone vitrea is one of the oldest deep sea species known, discovered in the 1870s on the Challenger expedition. Image courtesy of © DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA


Just as these kinds of expeditions have revealed time and time again, it looks like life in the oceans’ deep waters is way more diverse than once assumed – and we’ve barely even begun exploring.


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