The ocean constitutes more than 70 percent of Earth, and since the beginning of history, we have depended on the ocean physically, economically, and inspirationally. Despite our dependence on the ocean and her resources, more than 80 percent of this territory remains unexplored. What lies beneath the surface is an extraordinary, vast puzzle of organisms, ecosystems, and communities just waiting to be solved. Many of these mysteries lie in one of the deepest locations on Earth, the Atacama Trench.
When one imagines a deep-sea fish, stereotypical characteristics that come to mind may be long teeth, unhinging jaws, bulbous eyes, and bioluminescence. However, one deep-sea fish doesn’t fit the bill. The snailfish is a cute little fish void of scales, translucent, and light in colour. In a recent expedition to the Atacama Trench, a team of scientists revealed footage of what they believe to be three new species of the fish. Found at 7,500 meters below the surface, the new specimens have been temporarily deemed “the pink, the blue, and the purple Atacama Snailfish.” The blue fish appeared to be a “winged” species with long trailing fins and a noticeable snout – characteristics that resemble the previously recorded Ethereal snailfish found in the Mariana Trench on the opposite side of the Pacific. The “pink” species was much more active and closer in appearance to the Mariana snailfish, discovered in 2017 also in the Mariana Trench. The purple snailfish was the smallest of the three, similar in physique to a snailfish one would normally find in a much shallower depth at 3,500 meters.
Snailfish have already been in the scientific spotlight as the deepest fish ever caught at a whopping 7,966 meters under the surface. The reason why this initial discovery was so groundbreaking is due to the enormous pressure in the deep sea. The snailfish only grows to a maximum of 0.3 meters, but can withstand more water pressure than the weight of 1,600 elephants (Welch, 2017). Snailfish, as with most other deep-sea fish, are extremely fragile and melt when they are brought to the ocean’s surface where there is not enough pressure to hold them together. The main component of their body structure that allows them to adapt to such extreme pressure is, ironically, the lack of body structure. Apart from their inner ear bones that provide a sense of balance and their teeth for predation, the rest of their bodies are “gooey”. The hydrostatic pressure and cold temperature acts like an external skeleton to support their bodies.
While more marvels are uncovered on this beautiful planet Earth, one cannot help but acquire a different perspective of the world. The better we understand biological and chemical processes that are currently a mystery, the more we realize there are so many unique creatures to appreciate and protect.
Do you know of any other ocean organisms with a special ability that allows them to adapt to their surroundings?