A team of scientists, from the University of Aberdeen and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), captured an elusive “supergiant” amphipod near deep-sea vents off the coast of New Zealand. Amphipods are crustaceans and are usually found in the deeper regions of the ocean. You can kind of think of them as the insects of the sea. Although, to me they look like they could be some kind of alien monster if they were magnified. They are usually very tiny, ranging somewhere between 2 to 3cm. There is a “giant” species known from Antarctica which measures around 10cm. So what makes a “supergiant”? One of the “supergiant” amphipods caught on this expedition came in at a whopping 34cm long!
The term “supergiant” stems from the 70’s when the elusive creatures were last caught off the coast of Hawaii. None have been caught since then until now. The team used a deep-sea vehicle designed by the University of Aberdeen equipped with a camera system, along with traps to capture the amphipods. The traps were set 7000 meters deep in the sea in the hopes of catching another elusive creature called the snailfish. When they pulled the traps aboard they got a big surprise. University of Aberdeen’s Dr Alan Jamieson said,
“The moment the traps came on deck we were elated at the sight of the snailfish as we have been after these fish for years.
“However, seconds later, I stopped and thought ‘what on earth is that?’ whilst catching a glimpse of an amphipod far bigger than I ever thought possible. It’s a bit like finding a foot long cockroach.”
When it comes to deep-sea exploration, persistence pays off. The team had been to the Kermadec trench, where these “supergiant” amphipods were discovered, twice before they made the grand find. Dr. Jamieson said, “a few days after the discovery we deployed all the equipment again on the same site and we didn’t photograph or capture a single supergiant; they were there for a day and gone the next.”
Deep-sea exploration has brought about many discoveries lately, and goes to show that there is so much left to be explored in our own little corner of the globe. Recently, we shared with you the discoveries found at the Cayman Trough where scores of shrimp previously unknown to man were found. We also shared with you the story of an Antarctic expedition that produced a new species of crab. Hopefully expeditions like these will help scientists tobe able to ascertain why these particular species get so much larger than their cousins.
For more information about this expedition, go to the University of Aberdeen’s website http://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/details-11497.php.