Reaching dizzying depths of more than 30,000 feet (9,000 meters), the Japan Trench is, quite simply, the stuff that imagination is made of…
Part of the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, the Japan Trench runs north to south roughly from Siberia to Iwo Jima. A murky and inky-black underworld that defies mere description, the Japan Trench is home to a veritable Lost World of bizarre creatures that are virtually unknown to scientists.
Of course, this is all set to change following a joint effort between British and Japanese scientists, who earlier this month explored the depths of the trench in a remote operated submersible vehicle. Designed to withstand the incredibly pressures that lie beneath the deep blue sea, the vehicle was equipped with cameras and sensors that combed for marine life.
Much to the joy of the scientists, the expedition discovered a shoal of snailfish (Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis) at a depth of 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers) in the trench, which are presently believed to be the deepest living fish ever recorded.
In true Japanese form, Dr. Monty Priede from the University of Aberdeen described the deep-sea fish as being ‘cute,’ while Dr. Alan Jamieson proclaimed: “It was an honor to see these fish.”
Since 2007, the Hadeep Project, a collaboration between the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab and the University of Tokyo’s Ocean Research Institute, has been exploring deep sea abysses in search of the unique underwater life.
Prior to the discovery of this shoal of snailfish, it was believed that few animals could survive at such incredible depths. For starters, the food supply is extremely limited, and life systems down here are dependent on tiny particles or ‘marine snow,’ which has to trickle down from the surface miles and miles above.
And of course, there is the intense pressure, which necessitates all sorts of weird and wonderful biological adaptations. And finally, deep sea trenches are something akin to small islands, which calls into question whether or not they can sustain a thriving population of critters.
But, this latest discovery essentially implies that all bets are off!
According to Dr. Priede: “Nobody has seen fish alive before at these depths – only pickled in museums – and by the time they come up from the depths they look in a pretty sorry state. We have spotted these creatures at depths of 7,703m (25,272ft) – and we have actually found a massive group of them. And [the] video is pretty tantalizing – the fact that there are 17 of them implies that they could well be a family group.”
As if this discovery wasn’t cool enough, it’s worth pointing out that the team is mounting another expedition next March, and there are plans to go all the way to the ocean floor, which bottoms out at more than 30,000 feet.
According to Dr. Jamieson: “Nobody has really been able to look at these depths before – I think we will see some fish living much deeper.”
One last thing…
Snailfish are scaleless with a thin and loose gelatinous skin that is covered in all manners of slime and spines. So, the answer is no – you can’t eat it as sushi!
** Images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **