Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Exotic creatures discovered living at deep-sea vent in Indian Ocean


British scientists have found a remarkable array of creatures, some of them new to science, in one of the most inhospitable regions of the deep sea. In the first ever expedition to explore and take samples from the "Dragon Vent" in the south-west Indian Ocean, remotely operated submarines spotted yeti crabs, sea cucumbers and snails living around the boiling column of mineral-rich water that spews out of the seafloor.
Dr Jon Copley, a marine biologist at the University of Southampton who led the exploration of the Dragon Vent, said his team found animals that had not been seen in neighbouring parts of the oceans.
"We found a new type of yeti crab. Yeti crabs are known at vents in the eastern Pacific and there are two species described so far, but they have very long, hairy arms – ours have short arms and their undersides are covered in bristles. They're quite different to the ones that are known from the Pacific," said Copley. "This is the first time a Yeti crab has been seen in the Indian Ocean."
His team also found sea cucumbers, vent shrimps and scaly-foot snails. Sea cucumbers have previously only been seen at deep sea vents in the eastern Pacific. "This is the first time they've been seen at vents in the Indian Ocean and they're not known from the central Indian or mid-Atlantic vents so far," he said.
Deep-sea vents, also known as hydrothermal vents, are springs of superheated water that are powered by underwater volcanoes. They erupt from the sea bed and are usually found a few miles under the sea surface. The scalding temperatures and rich mineral content of the water give rise to vast rocky chimneys, which have been found to support a wide variety of life forms...