Creatures dredged from the deep

The Niwa scientists returned from the Kermadec Trench with a collection of unusual crabs, worms and lobsters. Photo / Niwa
The Niwa scientists returned from the Kermadec Trench with a collection of unusual crabs, worms and lobsters. Photo / Niwa

Hairy crabs, fanged worms and midget lobsters are the latest freakish lifeforms dredged up by scientists exploring the sea volcanos of the Kermadec Ridge.

A three-week New Zealand expedition has returned with thousands of specimens, including deep-sea stalked barnacles that resemble "a stretched neck" and fearsome angler fish with deadly arrays of teeth.

The species, some new to science, were found between 700m and 1500m down into the abyss, living near the hydrothermal vents of the underwater volcanoes.

There are 50 submarine volcanoes along the Kermadec Ridge, which extends almost 1500km between New Zealand and Tonga. Hydrothermal vents of the volcanoes release hot water and gases with different chemical compositions, so specific communities have adapted to survive in each area.

Voyage leader Dr Malcolm Clark said: "These animals are adapted to the specific combination of depth, temperature and chemical composition of the venting fluids.

"There is almost certainly something new, as typically almost 10 per cent of what we catch in the deep sea is new to science or new to New Zealand.

"The voyage also sampled extensively in canyons which have not been surveyed before, and so the expectation is that there will be many new discoveries once the samples and photographic data are analysed."

The information will be analysed over the coming year and eventually be used in ecological risk assessments to help improve environmental management. The voyage was funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Video footage: niwa.co.nz

- APNZ

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