A crew of researchers exploring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean discovered a host of bizarre and fascinating creatures swimming in the depths — some of which have never been seen before.
Over 3 miles below the surface, the Australian crew found a new species of blind eel, according to a November release by CSIRO, Australia’s scientific research agency.
Floating in complete darkness, it looks like an X-ray come to life, its gelatinous, see-through skin hanging loose from the rest of its well-displayed anatomy, pictures show.
It’s just one new discovery among a likely trove, according to the team, led by Museums Victoria Research Institute. The expedition comes after the Australian government established the Cocos Islands as a marine park in March, which added additional environmental protections to the area.
“We have discovered an amazing number of potentially new species living in this remote marine park,” Tim O’Hara, Chief Scientist of the expedition, said.
Of the specimens collected by researchers, O’Hara expects up to 30% will be new discoveries, he told The Guardian.
Aboard their vessel, called the Investigator, researchers set out on a 35-day expedition to map the seafloor around the Cocos Islands.
A collection of small islands covered in white sand and lush vegetation jutting out of the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Cocos are as beautiful as they are isolated. But thanks to 3D mapping efforts by the Investigator crew, we can now see in greater detail than ever the alien beauty of the underwater world around the islands — a dark, rugged, mountainous place teeming with wildlife to match.
“We have beamed these new 3D maps and underwater video images directly from the vessel to the people of Cocos (Keeling) Islands, who have been super-excited to see their seascape in all its grandeur,” O’Hara said.
The creatures wandering this cold, sunless home are varied, some vicious, some debatably cute, and the predators aren’t just toothy, they’re tricky.
Some notable denizens include the pelican eel, whose tail lights up like an unmissable beacon on an otherwise black “velvety” body, researchers say. It puts its massive jaws to work when prey is lured: Big or small, it doesn’t matter too much as the eel’s specialized stomach can stretch to accommodate.
Deep-sea batfish almost crawl along the floor with their little fins. At first they might seem like a harmless blob that’s been flattened by the immense weight of the sea, but even this diminutive pancake plays dirty by using a lure on its snout to sucker in prey.
“This research voyage has led to many important discoveries of marine life and deep ocean terrain, and we are very proud of this work,” said Museums Victoria CEO Lynley Crosswell.
“I’m really excited about what new future science discoveries come out from this in the years to come,” Taylor told the Guardian.