Creatures from the deep

18:10, Jun 11 2009
OCEAN WONDERS: Little is known about the shimmering snail fish, top. And bottom, a bug-eyed deep-sea octopus was among the new discoveries.

A voyage of discovery to freezing waters near Antarctica is still uncovering dozens of new species, with the promise of many more to come.

Twenty-six scientists aboard Niwa's ice-strengthened research ship Tangaroa spent five weeks in the Ross Sea last year, collecting more than 40,000 marine samples.

Science leader Stu Hanchet estimated only about 5000 samples had been examined and classified so far, 14 months after the ship returned. "It's a huge job, there's still a lot of work to be done." Among the discoveries was a new species of snail fish, with a shimmering, translucent body.

Giant-eyed deep-sea octopuses were also hauled to the surface, along with 18 new species of sea cucumber, one of which was armed with a unique "horn".

"There are some quite weird things down there. One sea cucumber species has this big protuberance sticking out of it. No one really knows what it's for."

The scientists also found what appears to be a new species of hyroid creatures that contain stinging cells. "It looks just like a sea anemone on a stick."

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The Ross Sea survey was New Zealand's contribution to two international scientific collaborations; the International Polar Year and the Antarctic component of the Census of Marine Life. "It was the trip of a lifetime," Dr Hanchet said.

The voyage was captured by cameraman Max Quinn from Natural History New Zealand. The resulting film, Expedition Antarctica, docments the icy trip and a personal tragedy for scientist Julie Hall. Her husband Trevor Atkins, 51, died in a glider accident while she was at sea.

Dr Hall chose to remain on the voyage, although arrangements could have been made to fly her back to New Zealand.

Dr Atkins' funeral was held after the Tangaroa returned on March 21 last year. "I really admired her for staying on," Dr Hanchet said.

Expedition Antarctica premiered in Wellington last night. It will screen on Sky's National Geographic channel on June 28.

The Dominion Post