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Deepest-living fishes caught on camera for the first time

7 October 2008, by Tom Marshall

Marine scientists filming in one of the world's deepest ocean trenches have found groups of highly sociable fish swarming nearly five miles (7700 metres) beneath the surface.

Snail fish

The first photograph of the world's deepest living fishes: swarms of snail fish (Limparidae) attacking bait at at 7703 metres in the Japan Trench.

When the international team recovered their high definition cameras from record-breaking depths in the Pacific Ocean, they were astounded by the abundance of life.

The footage shows swarms of fish darting over bait under pressures equivalent to 1600 elephants on the roof of a mini. This is the first time life at these depths has been caught on camera.


You will need to download the Flash Player (or enable JavaScript) if you wish to stream this video clip online.

Scientists found swarms of liparid fish at a record-breaking 7703 metres.

'We got some absolutely amazing footage from 7700 metres. More fish than we or anyone in the world would ever have thought possible at these depths,' says project leader Dr Alan Jamieson on board the Japanese research ship the Hakuho-Maru.

'It's incredible. These videos vastly exceed all our expectations from this research. We thought the deepest fishes would be motionless, solitary, fragile individuals eking out an existence in a food-sparse environment,' says Professor Monty Priede, director of Oceanlab, based at the University of Aberdeen.

'But these fish aren't loners. The images show groups that are sociable and active - possibly even families - feeding on little shrimp, yet living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth.'

Hadeep team

The Hadeep team.

'All we've seen before of life at this depth have been shrivelled specimens in museums. Now we have an impression of how they move and what they do,' he added.

The fish are called snail fish (from the family Liparidae) and are found exclusively below 6000 metres, where they contend with total darkness, near freezing temperatures and immense water pressure - equivalent to 1600 elephants on the roof of a Mini. They feed on the thousands of tiny shrimp-like creatures that scavenge the carcasses of dead fish on the ocean floor.

'More fish than we or anyone in the world would ever have thought possible at these depths' Dr Alan Jamieson

Snail fish live only in a handful of trenches in the Pacific Ocean: the Kermadec and Tonga trenches situated between Samoa and New Zealand in the South Pacific, and the Japan trench, which Priede's team is currently investigating.

The work is part of the HADEEP project - a collaborative research programme between Oceanlab and the University of Tokyo. The project aims to investigate life in the hadal region of the ocean, which is anything below 6000 metres.

Program leader for HADEEP is Professor Mutsumi Nishida, director of the Ocean Research Institute at the University of Tokyo. The project has been funded by the Nippon Foundation in Japan since 2006 and by the Natural Environment Research Council since 2007.

Submersible lander

With sapphire viewports and pressure housings as thick as cannon-barrels, the HADEEP submersible is made of stern stuff.

This latest cruse to the Japan trench was funded by the Nippon Foundation via the University of Tokyo. It began on Wednesday 24 September and finished 6 October. It was organised by Dr Asako K. Matsumoto, HADEEP research manager.

The deep-sea equipment needed to survive the extreme pressure at these depths was designed and built by the Oceanlab team specifically for this mission.

The submersible camera platforms take five hours to reach the depths of the trenches and remain on the seafloor for two days before the signal is given for them to surface.

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Your comments

It's really amazing! Not only the creatures on the video, but also the sharp video-clips the scientists made. It's hard to realise that I am looking to a scene almost 7 km below the surface. It is sharp as being filmed in a common pool, just a few inches deep!
Question: When the snailfish is hunting on those shrimps, for what purpose serve their 'eyes' in that light-lacking environment?
Or are the black dots on their heads just other sensors?
Well, there is still a lot to investigate.
Good luck with your interesting job!

Nick, Castricum, Netherlands
Wednesday, 7 July 2010 - 17:14

This subject was posted in a popular newspaper in the Netherlands. It is also online - that might explain the high number of hits you probably have seen on this article...

maurice, utrecht
Friday, 9 July 2010 - 04:12

nie mo¿na zaprezentowanie SI¿ Tego ale spodziewa¿ Jak Ryby te SI¿ poruszaj¿ po prostu cud.

Zenonek, polen czy jakos tak :/
Friday, 14 January 2011 - 10:16


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