Exploration / North Pacific

New deep sea species discovered in Pacific

Written by Oceanographic Staff

Researchers from the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London have discovered a wealth of new species that are believed to still be unknown to science in the deep of the Pacific Ocean.

During the summer of 2018, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was sent to the deep sea in the Pacific Ocean. While exploring the western edge of an abyss between Hawaii and Mexico, around 5,000m below the surface, the team of researchers was able to recover 55 specimens of 48 different species with the ROV and bring them to the surface, giving the scientists a better understanding of their DNA and characteristics.

Nine of these species were known to science, while 39 others may be new species that are still unknown to science. “These undescribed organisms represent a fraction of the undiscovered species found in the deep ocean, which scientists are working to understand before deep sea mining begins,” writes the NHM.

One of the species found was a banana-shaped sea cucumber, called a gummy squirrel (Psychropotes longicauda).

Dr Guadalupe Bribiesca-Contreras, the new study’s lead author, commented: “This research is important not only due to the number of potentially new species discovered, but because these megafauna specimens have previously only been studied from seabed images. Without the specimens and the DNA data they hold, we cannot properly identify the animals and understand how many different species there are.”

“We have never really had much information on the larger animals we call megafauna, as so few samples have been collected. This study is the first to suggest that diversity may be very high in these groups as well,” she added.

Psychronaetes sea cucumbers were also collected, and are believed to represent a new species. 

Collecting further data on the species living in the deep sea is vital to better form a picture about the effects that deep sea mining might have on the ecosystem as the deep sea mining sector expands worldwide.

“Whilst deep sea mining is a very valid environmental concern, we are in a very positive situation where we have been able to conduct a lot of fundamental research while the industry is held back from full-scale exploitation,” merit researcher Dr Adrian Glover, who leads the Museum’s Seep Sea Research Group, says. “This is very different to what has happened in the past with other ocean resources, such as fisheries. A big societal decision with regard deep sea mining is on the horizon and our role is to provide as much data as we can to inform that decision as best we can.”

The findings of the expedition were published in the journal Zookeys here.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.
Photography courtesy of DeepCCZ expedition, Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation & NOAA, and Unsplash.

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