July 16, 2010

Cameras Capture Strange Creatures Of The Deep

Australian scientists have found strange prehistoric sea life several hundreds of feet below the Great Barrier Reef, during a first-of-its-kind mission to document species under threat from warming of the world's oceans.

Remote controlled cameras located at Osprey Reef, northwest of the Great Barrier Reef, have captured astonishing images of ancient sharks, giant oil fish, masses of crustaceans and a primitive shell-dwelling squid species known as the Nautilus.

Lead researcher Justin Marshall said Thursday that his team also found several unidentified fish species, including a "prehistoric six-gilled shark" using special low-light cameras custom designed to trawl the ocean floor some 4,500 feet below sea level. 

"Some of the creatures that we've seen we were sort of expecting, some of them we weren't expecting, and some of them we haven't identified yet," Marshall, of the University of Queensland, told AFP.

Marshall said there was a shark there that he was not expecting to see which was the false cat shark that sports an oddly unique dorsal fin.

To get sea creatures within camera view, the team used a tuna head on a stick to lure them in. The research was made urgent by recent oil spills affecting the Great Barrier Reef and the threat from warming and acidification of the world's oceans.

"One of the things that we're trying to do by looking at the life in the deep sea is discover what's there in the first place, before we wipe it out," Marshall said.

"We simply do not know what life is down there, and our cameras can now record the behavior and life in Australia's largest biosphere, the deep sea," he added.

Scientists have already warned that the reef is in serious danger, as global warming and chemical runoff threaten to exterminate species and cause disease outbreaks.

A Chinese coal ship -- Shen Neng 1 -- gouged a 10-foot scar in the reef when it ran aground on April 3 while trying to take a shortcut. The accident caused a leak in the ship which leaked tons of oil into the famed nature sanctuary.

About 200,000 liters of heavy fuel oil spilled into the waters south of the reef last March when shipping containers full of fertilizer tumbled off the Hong Kong-flagged Pacific Adventurer during a cyclone, piercing its hull, causing one of Australia"Ëœs worst ever oil spills.

Marshall said the cameras would now be sent to the sludge-ridden Gulf of Mexico to monitor the effects of the oil spill there on marine life.

Images Courtesy Queensland Brain Institute


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