AsianScientist (Feb. 3, 2012) – Scientists aboard the RV Kaharoa on a recent expedition to one of the deepest places on Earth have discovered ‘supergiant’ prawns that are 28 centimeters long and 10 to 14 times larger than regular prawns.
Deep sea amphipods are a type of crustacean that are typically two to three centimeters long with the exception of the slightly larger ‘giant’ amphipod found in Antarctica. These supergiants dwarf the Antarctic giant.
Led by voyage leader Dr. Alan Jamieson from the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab, the supergiants were discovered in the Kermadec Trench, north of New Zealand by scientists from the University of Aberdeen and the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Also aboard NIWA’s research vessel were scientists from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Whitman College, U.S.
Using specially designed ultra-deep submergence technology, the team deployed a camera system and a large trap to depths ranging from 6,900 to 9,900 meters. The team was aiming to recover specimens of the deep sea snailfish, which had not been captured since the early 1950s but had been photographed previously by the team at approximately 7,000 meters depth.
Peering into the recovered trap, the team realized that amongst hundreds of ‘normal’ amphipods lay several individuals 10 to 14 times larger than any of the others.
These new sightings and specimens of the supergiant represent both the biggest specimen ever caught (28 centimeters long) and the deepest they have ever been found (7,000 meters deep).
“It just goes to show that the more you look, the more you find. For such a large and conspicuous animal to go unnoticed for so long is just testament to how little we know about life in New Zealand’s most deep and unique habitat,” said NIWA’s Dr. Ashley Rowden.
The challenge for the team now is to determine whether these samples represent a new species, and to figure out why – out of the hundreds of species of deep-sea amphipods – these ones have evolved to be so large.
The supergiant and the fish specimens are current residing in Wellington, New Zealand until after the team’s next expedition in February.
Source: NIWA; Photo: Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, UK.
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