At a maximum depth of 8,065 meters (nearly 26,500 feet), the Atacama Trench in the eastern Pacific Ocean is one of the deepest trenches in the world. While its vast darkness still hides many secrets, a recent expedition into the area has brought to light three novel species of sea creatures we had no idea existed until now.
According to a news release by Newcastle University in the U.K., which took part in the exploration along with 16 other nations, the journey revealed “three new species of the elusive snailfish,” caught on camera for the very first time.
Discovered “in the ultra-deep,” at staggering depths ranging between 6,500 and 7,500 meters (21,325 to 24,606 feet), the newfound snailfish have yet to be assigned an official, scientific name. For the moment, they are referred to as “the pink, the blue, and the purple Atacama snailfish,” Newcastle University announced earlier today.
These creatures live at such “extreme depths” that they rival the world’s deepest-living fish — the Mariana snailfish (pseudoliparis swirei), discovered last year inside the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. The Mariana snailfish lives at depths of 8,178 meters (26,830 feet), as the Inquisitr previously reported.
Their discovery is all the more intriguing considering that these snailfish have surprisingly bizarre features, especially for creatures that dwell so deep inside the Atacama abyss.
“These fish are part of the Liparidae family and do not conform to the preconceived stereotypical image of what a deep-sea fish should look like,” university officials said in a statement.
The weird thing bout the Atacama snailfish is that, unlike most Liparidae — a large family of marine fishes belonging to the scorpaeniform order, which also includes the well-known lionfish and many other ray-finned species, explains the Encyclopaedia Britannica — these creature are extremely delicate.
Although predatory, the Atacama snailfish don’t have giant, menacing mouths. At the same time, their small bodies have lost their scales, remaining almost translucent.
“There is something about the snailfish that allows them to adapt to living very deep. Beyond the reach of other fish, they are free of competitors and predators,” said Dr. Thomas Linley, a research associate at Newcastle University who participated in the expedition alongside 39 other scientists.
“Their gelatinous structure means they are perfectly adapted to living at extreme pressure. In fact, the hardest structures in their bodies are the bones in their inner ear, which give them balance, and their teeth,” explained Linley. “Without the extreme pressure and cold to support their bodies, they are extremely fragile and melt rapidly when brought to the surface.”
The Atacama Trench stretches for nearly 6,000 kilometers (almost 3,800 miles) off the coast of Peru and Chile. The team set out to investigate the area with the German research vessel Sonne, and used a baited camera system to search the Atacama abyssal and hadal zones, Newcastle University noted in the video description.
The scientists deployed their camera 27 times across the depths of the Atacama Trench, including the region’s deepest point known as Richards Deep.
The video below shows some of the footage captured by the university’s marine biologists 24,600 feet below the surface, offering a unique look into the “secret world” of these mysterious fish. Fascinatingly, as Linley pointed out, the Atacama snailfish seem to be the top predators of this part of the world.
Apart from snagging exclusive video of the three new snailfish species, the team also managed to capture “astonishingly rare footage” of a type of crustacean known as the long-legged isopod. These creatures belong to an unidentified species of the Munnopsidae family and grow to be the size of an adult human hand.
The remarkable thing about these crustaceans is the way in which they move around. To crawl across the sea floor, long-legged isopods start off by swimming backwards and upside-down. Then — using paddles on their sides — they propel themselves to do a flip and land on the bottom of the ocean with their long legs spread out like a spider.