|A transparent sea cucumber swept detritus-rich sediment into its mouth 9,022 feet deep in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/ Larry Madin)|
Study finds thousands of deep-sea species
NEW ORLEANS - Thousands of marine species eke out an existence in the ocean’s pitch-black depths by feeding on the decaying matter that cascades down, even sunken whale bones, according to a report released yesterday.
Oil and methane are also an energy source for the bottom-dwellers, the report says.
The findings on the deep sea were the latest special update on a 10-year census of marine life, an effort by more than 2,000 scientists from 80 countries to catalog the oceans’ species.
Researchers say that since the census began in 2000, they have recorded 17,650 species living below 656 feet, the point where sunlight ceases. They say they have found 5,722 species living in the extreme depths, waters deeper than 3,280 feet.
“Parts of the deep sea that we assumed were homogenous are actually quite complex,’’ said Robert S. Carney, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University and a lead researcher on the deep seas.
The creatures are as weird and outlandish as the creations in a Dr. Seuss book: tentacled transparent sea cucumbers, primitive “dumbos’’ that flap ear-like fins, and tubeworms that feed on oil deposits. The census also records the familiar dwellers of the abyss: squids, hermit crabs, and jellyfish.
In all, the census researchers have so far found about 5,600 new species on top of the 230,000 known. They hope to add several thousand more by October 2010, when the census will be done.
The scientists say they could announce that a million or more species remain unknown. On land, biologists have catalogued about 1.5 million plants and animals.
Researching the abyss has been costly and difficult because it involved deep-towed cameras, sonar, and remoted-operated vehicles that cost $50,000 a day to operate, Carney said.