Exploration of South Pacific finds new Species

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The Research Vessel Ka`imikai-o-Kanaloa (KoK), its embarked remotely-operated-vehicle and two human-occupied submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V, and a weary but proud team from Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, sailed into its homeport in Hawaii last week after supporting the longest and most-challenging ocean expedition in HURL’s 25 year history.

The ship traveled 10,000 nautical miles and the Pisces submersibles made 67 dives, one as deep as 1,820 meters on Brothers undersea volcano. The results included discovery and the advancement of knowledge about the largely unknown ocean.

The nearly five month long international expedition to explore the South Pacific produced many discoveries including numerous suspected new species, new ranges for known species, measurements of the diversity of marine life, and more data about undersea volcanoes and the rare interface of life based on sunlight, and life based on chemicals.

“It was one of the most successful ocean exploration voyages in recent years,” said Barbara Moore, director of the NOAA Undersea Research Program, which supports HURL and five other regional centers.

“It was a multinational collaboration between the U.S., New Zealand and Germany, funded by two New Zealand institutes as well as the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and its Undersea Research Program,” she said. “And it is certainly was multi-disciplinary, spanning a dozen disciplines in marine science and ocean engineering.”

Scientists observed many suspected new species including a so-called “donut fish,” a small tadpole-like fish that forms itself into a donut shape and drifts with the current near Kingman Reef. The fish and the purpose for its behaviour were unknown to scientists. At a depth of about 700 meters near Jarvis Island, scientists discovered a previously undescribed species of electric ray, a fish that produces a strong electric shock to stun its prey and unwary predators.

Near Jarvis Island, scientists nicknamed a previously unknown crab “tyrano” because of his large size (size of a beach ball), powerful claws and quick movements, and at Kingman Reef they saw a large unidentified crab the size of a soccer ball and nicknamed it “sumo-crab,” because its massive body and deliberate movements gave the impression of strength. At several locations scientists observed small striped eels and a cusk eel that may be new species.

Steve Price, a Pisces V co-pilot, dove on Monowai’s caldera. “It was teeming with a diversity of life, with mussels, tubeworms, fish and crabs. Struggles for survival were playing out before our eyes. The incredible multitude of crabs in combat with each other for existence is an image I will never forget.”