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Marine Scientists Find Unknown Sea Creatures

Giant sea spiders, ancient species of bacteria and new starfish living in communities are just some of hundreds of sea creatures that have been discovered by scientists conducting decade-long census of sea life.

Researchers in more than 80 nations are participating in the effort which is funded by governments, foundations and corporations.

Scientists presented some of their findings at recent conference as the project nears its completion.

In deep icy waters beneath Antarctica, scientists found bulbous tunicates, an underwater animal, and colonies of newly-discovered creatures believed related to starfish and other marine creatures.

Elsewhere in the world's oceans, they have recently discovered a new species of blind lobster, giant bacteria, and a variety of underwater life forms new to science. It is all part of a research effort called the Census of Marine Life.

"There are about 2,000 scientists worldwide involved. Just about every country is involved in some way," said Bob Gagosian, President/CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. "It started in 2000 and will go to 2010."

Gagosian helps manage the project. "Everywhere they've gone they've found new things," he says. "The ocean basically is unexplored from the point of view of marine organisms."

Researchers have placed small markers on hundreds of fish and marine animals, to track by satellite their migration routes and to discover places where sea life congregates.

According to Ron O'Dor, a senior scientist with the Census for Marine Life, knowledge of life on the ocean floor is especially limited. "Ninety percent of all the information we have is from the top hundred meters of the ocean," O'Dor states.

And he says the sea floor is, on average, at a depth of 4,000 meters. And so, as submersibles and robotic devices dive far below what people have previously seen, scientists are discovering bizarre species of plants, animals and organisms thriving near hot ocean vents percolating from the ocean floor.

Since the census project began, more than 5,300 new marine animals have been found. Ocean researchers say they hope to catalogue 230,000 species during the census -- which some say is only a fraction of all the creatures living in the sea.