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Catch of the day? Fangtooth, snotthead, goblin shrimp

By Richard Stenger
CNN

The deep-sea expedition may have discovered more than 100 new species.
The deep-sea expedition may have discovered more than 100 new species.

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Tangaroa means God of the Seas in the language of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.

(CNN) -- Many of the known denizens of the deep look as bizarre as their names: Snotthead. Fangtooth. Gulper eel. So what about the creepy creatures that lurk in unchartered depths? A team of international scientists was determined to find out.

This month, they are examining their catch from a deep-sea expedition in the Southern Hemisphere, more than 1,500 species photographed or collected from unexplored waters along the sea floor between New Zealand and Australia.

The haul includes a sea spider with organs in its legs, a shark with sandpaper-like skin and a squid with a big eye to find prey and a little one to avoid becoming it.

"If you lived in pitch black, hunted by feeling vibrations or looking for the tiniest glimpses of light, withstood massive pressures and had to wait for months at a time to feed, you'd end up looking like Gollum as well," said Mark Norman, a biologist who rode on the research vessel Tangaroa, which completed a month-long voyage in June.

Norman's reference is to a gruesome character in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings," but some specimens photographed, netted or dredged by the Tangaroa crew down to depths of 1.2 miles (two kilometers) were too weird for science fiction or fantasy.

Snout as metal detector

The flabby coffinfish walks on the sea floor on short leg-like fins and can swallow large volumes of water to expand into a ball, making it less appealing to predators.

The Pacific spookfish uses its snout like a metal detector, scanning for the electrical impulses of prey hidden in the mud. Goblin shrimp have twisted faces and heavy-plated armor.

start quote"If you lived in pitch black, hunted by feeling vibrations or looking for the tiniest glimpses of light, withstood massive pressures and had to wait for months at a time to feed, you'd end up looking like Gollum as well.end quote
-- Marine biologist Mark Norman

And rather than live in shells, which are scarce on the ocean floor, one variety of hermit crab dwells inside the tough, leathery bodies of zonathid, a relative of coral with stinging tentacles.

Many in the Tangaroa catch are relatives of known species, but a preliminary tally suggests there are more than 100 new species of fish and invertebrates, according Norman, senior curator of the Museum Victory in Australia.

The expedition, dubbed NORFANZ because it sailed near Norfolk Island and was a joint project of Australian and New Zealand, hopes to shed light on the depths of the Tasman Sea, one of the least understood, watery recesses of the planet.

"Life is precious and especially adapted for every nook and cranny of this Earth," said Norman. "The deep-sea deserves as much protection and consideration as the richest of tropical rainforests."


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