Scientists say they have taken an array of new marine species from the seabed off eastern Antarctica. They are warning, though, that climate change could soon make extinct many of the strange creatures they have just discovered. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Two kilometers beneath the ocean east of Antarctica, in water barely above the freezing point, scientists from Australia, Japan and France have found creatures they have never seen before.
They include giant worms, big-eyed fish and sea spiders "the size of dinner plates."
Researchers have been trawling the waters off Antarctica as part of a census of marine life before the area is degraded by climate change.
So far 75 different species of fish have been collected and, of these, scientists say three or four are new to science.
Martin Riddle of the Australian Antarctic Division, who is heading the research voyage, was there when the discoveries were made.
"We had some of the world's experts on Antarctic fish and they were completely, completely flabbergasted as to some of the fish that came on board - unable to name them," Riddle said. "They had fins in various places, they had funny, dangly bits around their mouths. Many of them had very large eyes, although what they are going to use them for there, where there is no light, I couldn't tell you. But they are very strange looking fish."
The scientists say they have also discovered new species of plankton, and jellyfish with tentacles at up to six meters long.
The seven-week expedition used three ships to search for life in a 50,000-square-kilometer area in the Southern Ocean.
Hundreds of different specimens will be taken to a museum in Paris to be identified. Having discovered this amazing array, scientists are worried how much longer they will be there in light of the earth's changing climate.
The world's oceans are natural "carbon sinks," and are absorbing the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The more carbon dioxide there is in the water, scientists say, the harder it becomes for marine organisms to grow skeletons, especially in colder waters.
The absorption of carbon dioxide can also result in sea water becoming more acidic, making it more difficult for marine life to survive.