The deep sea has long been established as one of the harshest environments to man. The freezing cold temperatures, the pitch blackness and the extreme pressures found in these abyssal plains have always been too difficult to explore even by sonar, as the waters are simply too deep to penetrate with standard equipment.
However, deep sea submarines are now shedding some light into this dark, alien world. Off the coast of New Zealand, a team of scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) uncovered the Flabby Whalefish while trawling a deep sea habitat.
Living more than a mile under water, the rare flabby whalefish is quite ghoulish in appearance. It has tiny eyes and no ribs, with a mottled red and black appearance.
The fish was discovered 1.7 miles underwater, which is one the deepest excursions ever undertaken by NIWA. NIWA typically only explores the ocean at depths of 0.7 miles below sea level.
The research group set up 8 large nets along the Chatham Rise, an area that was part of a network of underwater mountains, ridges, abyssal plains, and canyons. NIWA fisheries scientist Peter McMillan tells National Geographic in an interview that “We know very little about the abundance and distribution of fishes at these depths. The eight stations sampled a tiny area but gave us a useful snapshot of the animals occupying some of the sea floor at depths greater than 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) around New Zealand.”
Absolutely nothing is known of the Flabby Whalefish and its behaviour. The animal was about 12.5 inches long and had a small tail compared to its “flabby” belly. Other unusual animals found in the expedition included the two-tone slickhead.
The two-tone slickhead has a remarkable two toned appearance: the head is black in colour while tail half of its body is a pale, mottled silver. The NIWA scientists would photograph the living animal in its natural habitat to preserve its original colour before hauling the specimen up to the surface to be studied and preserved. NIWA sends any new species to the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Wellington for further study. They are then stored in New Zealand’s National Fish Collection.
In addition to the two-tone slickhead, a new, unidentified slickhead was captured as well. In fact, five different species of slickheads were found in this excursion, and McMillan remarks that he was “surprised by the predominance of slickheads at these depths”. This is because the animals are typically found around 0.62 miles or deeper.
The animals are largely unstudied, but they have reason to believe that they mostly dine on jellyfish, shrimps, sea squirts, and comb jellies.
The scientists also uncovered a young Richardson’s skate. These skates are extremely rare animals, and it took NIWA’s impressive 66 foot wide deep sea trawling net to capture it. The specimen that they brought up looked like a pale pink ray with a pointed nose.
Many more interesting animals were discovered in NIWA’s trawling project, learning a tiny bit more about these mysterious habitats.