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Pictures: Odd Sea Creatures Found at Volcanoes, Canyons
By Christine Dell'Amore,
National Geographic News, 13 June 2012.

1. Polychaete Worm

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Don't let the rainbow glow fool you. This polychaete worm - found 3,900 feet (1,200 meters) down on the muddy seafloor off northern New Zealand - is a ferocious predator, with jaws that project à la the Alien movie monster.

Scientists spotted the creature - and many others - during a three-week expedition this spring throughout four deep-sea regions in the volcano-rich Kermadec Ridge.

Covering 3,800 square miles (9,840 square kilometres), the study area included undersea mountains, continental slopes, canyons, and hydrothermal vents-areas where undersea volcanoes release hot water and gases.

The "exciting" survey turned up several known species, from stalked barnacles to giant mussels, as well as potential new ones, biologist Malcolm Clark said by email.

"Overall, the survey confirmed our belief that the biological communities of the four deep-sea habitats would be different," added Clark, who led the voyage for New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.

The research also further illuminated the deep sea, which is "to an extent, out of sight and out of mind," he said.

"In order to ensure that deep-sea ecosystems do not suffer too much damage from things like bottom trawling or mineral extraction, we need to know what animals occur there, and how vulnerable they are to impact."

2. Uroptychus Squat Lobster

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Found between depths of 2,130 feet (650 meters) and 4,600 feet (1,400 meters), this squat lobster of the Uroptychus genus isn't the first known specimen of its kind, but its species hasn't yet been formally recognized.

These deep-sea lobsters are almost exclusively found in association with deep-sea corals. In this case the animals were found attached to a bamboo coral.

3. Snake Stars

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Yellowish snake stars of the species Asteroschema bidwillae were caught on an undersea peak called Tangaroa Seamount at a depth of 4,000 feet (1,220 meters).

The invertebrates are usually found wrapped around coral branches, as pictured, and have adapted to capture food particles from these perches.

Tangaroa, one of four seamounts sampled during the survey, had never been explored before, Clark noted.

"The geologists thought it might be active, based on the water chemistry above the summit, but this was the first time we had deployed cameras and direct sampling gear to find out about the biology," he said.

4. Smoky Vents

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Organisms crawl amid smoky clouds spewing from a hydrothermal vent - one of four habitats sampled by the scientists.

"One day we would be surveying a hard rocky seamount with hydrothermal venting, and the next we would be working the thick muddy sediments on the floor of a canyon," Clark said.

"The animals we find in these habitats are often completely different from one another, and because we are working in relatively deep waters, about a kilometre [0.6 mile] below the surface, where scientists haven't been before, the chances of capturing new species are high."

5. "Mickey Mouse" Squid

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Commonly called a "mickey mouse" squid, this small sepiolid was discovered about 3,000 feet (900 meters) deep on a canyon wall.

"This species lives close to the seafloor, and it's rare to get fragile animals like this in such good condition," Clark noted.

The habitat itself could be fragile too. On one occasion, Clark and his team accidentally nudged their camera against a canyon wall, triggering "a mini-avalanche, which we followed with the camera for several minutes as it flowed down the slope.

"This was a graphic demonstration of how unstable some of these environments can be."

6. "Hairy" Crab

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Scientists located the small crab Trichopeltarion janetae (pictured) amid rocks on the summit of a 3,000-foot-deep (900-meter-deep) seamount.

Described for the first time in 2008, the "hairy" crustacean has been previously found only on seamounts off New Zealand and southern Australia, Clark said.

7. Cup Coral

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Unlike reef-building corals that form giant colonies, cup corals - such as this Stephanocyathus platypus, found 3,200 feet (1,000 meters) down - live solitary lives in their cuplike limestone exterior skeletons, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Up to 3.5 inches (9 centimetres) wide, the largest cup corals are found in New Zealand waters.

(See more coral pictures.)

8. Crown Jellyfish

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Found in a canyon about 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) deep, this unidentified jellyfish is likely a type of Atolla, a genus of crown jellyfish that dwells only at depth.

"The long tentacles of the jellyfish drift behind it to catch a prey of small bioluminescent zooplankton," Clark said.

"The dark red bell of the jellyfish would be invisible in its deep-sea habitat," he added.

9. Black Dragonfish

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Female black dragonfish - such as this new-found specimen of the Idiacanthus genus - are "fierce predators" of small fish. But "interestingly, male dragonfish lack teeth and a functional gut, and are thought to live only long enough to breed," Clark said.

10. Sea Slug

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A potential new species of sea slug was caught in a canyon at depths of 4,100 feet (1,250 meters).

"The sea slugs are close relatives of sea snails but have evolved over time to reduce the size [of], or completely lose, their shells," Clark said.

11. Coral, With a Side of Crab

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Pictured with a crab emerging from its middle, this likely new species of Epizoanthus coral has polyps that, when extended, resemble its close relative the sea anemone.

The coral settles on snail shells occupied by hermit crabs. As the coral grows, it completely engulfs the shell. "The hermit crab's mobile home is now a feeding station" for the coral, too, Clark said.

12. Blind Squat Lobster

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The blind squat lobster Munidopsis victoriae is nearly always found near pieces of sunken wood at depths from 2,300 feet (700 meters) to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters).

The species has a spine of unknown function that sticks out from the middle of each eye, Clark said.

13. Honeycomb Glass Sponge

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With a silicon-based skeleton, a new species of "beautiful and fragile" honeycomb glass sponge of the Farrea genus was found on a seamount at 3,100 feet (950 meters) deep - and it wasn't alone.

"The little shrimp making its home in the sponge network probably belongs to the Axiidae, a family of ghost shrimp," Clark said.

14. Stalked Barnacle

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The stalked barnacle species Vulcanolepis osheaii form large beds on several seamounts of the southern Kermadec Ridge.

Found at depths of 2,300 to 3,300 feet (700 to 1,000 meters), the species' stalks are covered with sulphide-eating bacteria.

"These bacteria utilise the sulphides in the vent fluids and surrounding waters, and in turn the barnacles feed on the bacteria - so in a way the barnacles grow their own prey!" Clark said.

15. Tonguefish

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The Tangaroa Seamount offered up a new species of tonguefish in the Symphurus genus (pictured).

Like many other flatfish, such as flounder, tonguefish have both their eyes on one side and are widely distributed on active seamounts in the western Pacific Ocean. There, the fish thought to graze on the bacterial mats created near warm nutrient flows, Clark said.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Top image added.]

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