New deep-sea species to describe – Live deep-sea ROPOS dives at the Museum – Part 3

A potentially new species of gorgonian bamboo coral (Isididae) next to a flower-like glass sponge (Rossellidae: Crateromorpha?). (Orphan Knoll Site 1)

A potentially new species of gorgonian bamboo coral (Isididae) next to a flower-like glass sponge (Rossellidae: Crateromorpha?). (Orphan Knoll Site 1) © DFO/ROPOS

I was surprised by the large number of species that could not be readily identified. At this point in time, however, it is too early to know how many new species have been discovered during this expedition.

The research team obviously could not collect everything they saw but my guesstimate is that possibly 50% of the species collected may be new to science, or represent significant extension to their previously-known distribution.

A potentially new species, Keratoisis branches through and amongst sponge (Porifera). Brittle stars (Ophiuroidea) and crustacean shrimp (can you find it?) take advantage of the biogenic habitat generated.  (Flemish Cap Site 6)

A potentially new species, Keratoisis branches through and amongst sponge (Porifera). Brittle stars (Ophiuroidea) and crustacean shrimp (can you find it?) take advantage of the biogenic habitat generated. (Flemish Cap Site 6) © DFO/ROPOS

The research team will also go through many photos of deep-sea fishes, squids, octopuses and other bathypelagic (i.e., pelagic animals living at bathyal depths) organisms that often swam quickly in front of the camera and could not be collected. And who can forget the incredibly cute big-eyed octopus (possibly Graneledone verrucosa) that made the news around the world.

Rich and colourful fauna

A rock ledge populated by various sponges (Porifera), soft corals of the genus Anthomastus, and a many armed brisingid sea star (Asteroidea: Brisingida). (Flemish Cap Dive 3)

A rock ledge populated by various sponges (Porifera), soft corals of the genus Anthomastus, and a many armed brisingid sea star (Asteroidea: Brisingida). (Flemish Cap Dive 3) © DFO/ROPOS

The most amazing observations were the large amount of organisms on the seafloor and their colours. While it is total darkness at these depths, there is obviously no natural pressure to not have colours; and colours there are!

Food is also more limited there than near the ocean surface but apparently plenty gets to the bottom to support this rich fauna. Most visitors were astonished by this. It was exciting to see many of them come to the realization that it is not “desert” down there.

Different substrates support different organisms

The pelagic lophogastrid Neognathophausia gigas swimming past a rock wall with sponge (Porifera) and Desmophyllum dianthus, solitary scleractinian (stony) corals. (Flemish Cap Dive 2)

The pelagic lophogastrid Neognathophausia gigas swimming past a rock wall with sponge (Porifera) and Desmophyllum dianthus, solitary scleractinian (stony) corals. (Flemish Cap Dive 2) © DFO/ROPOS

In previous posts, we saw that many of the rocky surfaces harbour an incredible amount of diversity. Surprisingly, it is not so different for soft sediments.

Unfortunately, the ROPOS cameras reveal only the more obvious megafauna living at or near the sediment surface. Sediment cores collected with the help of one of the ROPOS arms will tell a bit more once the team analyses them back at the labs. Many species of sea worms (Polychaetes) and small crustaceans (Amphipods and Isopods) often dominate these soft sediment communities. These are the groups I studied the most.

A potentially new species of enteropneust worm (Hemichordata) slowly moving on soft sediment, ingesting mud by its mouth (under its colourful, flower-looking proboscis) and leaving a trail of clean sediment at the rear end. (Orphan Knoll Site 1)

A potentially new species of enteropneust worm (Hemichordata) slowly moving on soft sediment, ingesting mud by its mouth (under its colourful, flower-looking proboscis) and leaving a trail of clean sediment at the rear end. (Orphan Knoll Site 1) © DFO/ROPOS

And after spending several days with the public and in frequent communication with the research team onboard the CCGS Hudson, I was still excited by the reactions generated by these images and our discussions. I am convinced that many of the visitors realized that this rich deep-water fauna is an important part of our natural environment and needs to be protected.

My last post will share some sobering thoughts on the subject of threatened habitats and biodiversity.

About Jean-Marc Gagnon

Curator, Invertebrate Section, Canadian Museum of Nature. Conservateur, Division des invertébrés, Musée canadien de la nature. President, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (2010-2012) (www.spnhc.org)
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