March 21, 2008

More Amazing Sea Creatures Found in Antarctica

Researchers found surprisingly large creatures and several potentially new specimens in New Zealand's Antarctic Ross Sea, including jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles and 2-foot-wide starfish.

"It's exciting when you come across a new species," said Chris Jones, a fisheries scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "All the fish people go nuts about that - but you have to take it with a grain of salt."

The survey, part of the International Polar Year program, is the most comprehensive to date from the Ross Sea. Previously, only small-scale scientific samplings have been staged in the Ross Sea.

Scientists said the new specimens must be evaluated before making any definitive claims, but they were also pleasantly surprised about other discoveries.

Stu Hanchet, a fisheries scientist at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said he discovered fields of sea lilies on the ocean floor.

"Some of these big meadows of sea lilies I don't think anybody has seen before," Hanchet said.

Marine scientist Don Robertson said he found large sea spiders, with 12-foot tentacles, oversized sea snails, and starfish.

The International Polar Year program is comprised of 23 countries that plan to survey marine life around Antarctica and determine the effects of global warming on Antarctic waters.

Robertson said that hundreds of the 30,000 collected specimens could turn out to be new.

Stefano Schiaparelli, a mollusk specialist at Italy's National Antarctic Museum in Genoa, said hopes the collection will yield at least eight new mollusks.

"This is a new brick in the wall of Antarctic knowledge," Schiaparelli said.


On the Net:


Census of Antarctic Marine Life

New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research