In the first expedition to the “Dragon Vent” in the south-west Indian Ocean, scientists have discovered an incredible number of creatures. Some are known to live in these inhospitable regions and some are entirely new to science.
The exploration was led by Dr. Jon Copley, a marine biologist from the University of Southampton. This survey was a part of a larger expedition to study underwater mountains aboard the RRS James Cook. The ship sailed from Cape Town on November 7 and returned on December 21.
“We found a new type of yeti crab. Yeti crabs are known at vents in the eastern Pacific and there are two species described so far, but they have very long, hairy arms – ours have short arms and their undersides are covered in bristles. They’re quite different to the ones that are known from the Pacific,” said Copley. “This is the first time a Yeti crab has been seen in the Indian Ocean.”
Copley and his team also found sea cucumbers, vent shrimp and scaly-foot snails. Previously, sea cucumbers have only been found around deep sea vents in the eastern Pacific. “This is the first time they’ve been seen at vents in the Indian Ocean and they’re not known from the central Indian or mid-Atlantic vents so far,” he said.
The team collected hundreds of samples from 17 difference creatures. Copley is guessing that several of them will be identified as new species. They are being shipped back to his lab for genetic examination.
This study builds on a Chinese expedition in 2007 that identified the location of the hydrothermal vents on the southwest Indian ridge for the first time.
Copley explains that characterizing the life at the hydrothermal vents is a race against time. “Earlier this year, China was granted a license by the UN International Seabed Authority for exploratory mining at deep-sea vents on the southwest Indian ridge,” he said. “The vent chimneys are very rich in copper, zinc, gold and uranium. But we have no idea what’s actually living there.”
“We’re fishing in deeper and deeper waters, oil and gas is moving into deeper waters and now there’s mining starting to take place in deep waters,” he said. “We need to understand how species disperse and evolve in the deep oceans if we’re going to make responsible decisions about managing their resources.”
Here are some great pictures of the creatures found on the expedition.
Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC