- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006


Peering deep into the sea, scientists are finding creatures more mysterious than many could have imagined.

At one site, nearly two miles deep in the Atlantic, shrimp were living around a vent that was releasing water heated to 765 degrees Fahrenheit. Water surrounding the site was a chilly 36 degrees.

An underwater peak in the Coral Sea was home to a type of shrimp thought to have gone extinct 50 million years ago.

More than three miles beneath the Sargasso Sea, in the Atlantic, researchers collected a dozen new species eating one another or living on organic material that drifts down from above.

“Animals seem to have found a way to make a living just about everywhere,” said Jesse Ausubel of the Sloan Foundation, discussing the findings of Year 6 of the census of marine life.

Added Ron O’Dor, a senior scientist with the census: “We can’t find anyplace where we can’t find anything new.”

This year’s update, released yesterday, is part of a study of life in the oceans that is scheduled for final publication in 2010. The census is an international effort supported by governments, divisions of the United Nations and private conservation organizations. About 2,000 researchers from 80 countries are participating.

Mr. Ausubel said a couple of thousand species of marine fish and mammals have been discovered during the census.

The researchers conducted 19 ocean expeditions this year; a 20th continues in the Antarctic. In addition, they operated 128 near-shore sampling sites and, using satellites, followed more than 20 tagged species including sharks, squid, sea lions and albatross.

Among the highlights of the 2006 research:

• Shrimp, clams and mussels live near the super-hot thermal vent in the Atlantic, where they face pulses of water that is near boiling despite shooting into the frigid sea.

• In the sea surrounding the Antarctic, a community of marine life shrouded in darkness exists beneath more than 1,600 feet of ice. Sampling of this remote ocean yielded more new species than familiar ones.

• Off the coast of New Jersey, 20 million fish swarm in a school the size of Manhattan.

• A type of shrimp called Neoglyphea neocaledonica, thought to have disappeared millions of years ago, was found alive and well in the Coral Sea. Researchers nicknamed it the Jurassic shrimp.

• Satellite tracking of tagged sooty shearwaters, small birds, mapped the birds’ 43,500-mile search for food in a giant figure eight over the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand via Polynesia to foraging grounds in Japan, Alaska and California and then back. The birds averaged a surprising 217 miles daily. In some cases, a breeding pair made the entire journey together.

• A 4-pound rock lobster was discovered off Madagascar.

• A single-cell creature big enough to see was found in the Nazare Canyon off Portugal. The fragile new species was found 14,000 feet deep. It is enclosed within a platelike shell, four-tenths of an inch in diameter, composed of mineral grains.

• A new type of crab with a furry appearance was discovered near Easter Island. It was so unusual that it warranted a whole new family designation, Kiwaidae, named for Kiwa, the Polynesian goddess of shellfish. Its furry appearance justified its species name, hirsuta, meaning hairy.

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