Census researchers from New Zealand hold giant Macroptychaster sea stars that can grow up to 60cm across. Photo: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, New Zealand, 2007.
Scientists are well on their way to releasing the world’s first Census of Marine Life (CoML), with astonishing discoveries continuing to being made and more than 5,300 new species found since 2003.
In fact, new species are being discovered faster than they can be described and named.
Discoveries aren’t just limited to new species though. Many of the surprising discoveries are related to distribution and abundance of known marine species throughout the world.
Highlights of the discoveries will be officially released at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity being held in Spain this week. The conference, organized by the Census’s European affiliate program on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning, will take place in Valencia between 11th and 15th of November.
In the meantime, the CoML fourth highlights report outlines some of the major discoveries.
There are many highlights outlined in the report. Some of the major ones include:
A male sea spider carries its eggs on specially adapted appendages under its body; it is one of many possible new species from the Antarctic. Census researchers are trying to understand the evolutionary history of these curious animals. Photo: Cédric d’Udekem, Royal Belgium Institute for Natural Sciences 2007.
- “White Shark Café” - Scientists have discovered previously unknown behavior of white sharks travelling long distances to the Pacific each winter. During this time, the sharks will make frequent, repetitive dives to depths of 300 meters. While researchers are unsure of the reason, they suspect that it may have something to do with feeding or reproduction.
- Giant amphipod - During an expedition to the Antarctic, scientists discovered one of Antarctica’s biggest-ever amphipod crustaceans, measuring almost 10 centimeters long. The CAML scientists also found around 1,000 other species, including eighteen potentially new species. The discovery was made possible due to the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, which allowed the scientists to explore a 10,000 kilometer section of the Antarctic Weddell Sea.
- High percentage of new species - An Australian expedition - COMARGE “Voyages of Discovery” - resulted in a very high discovery rate of new species. Of the 524 Decapoda (crabs, shrimps, prawns, lobsters, etc) species found, 33 percent are thought to be new species. Furthermore, 25 percent are records in the region, and eight percent are records for Australia.
- Giant oysters - The COMARGE explorers discovered dense communities of gigantic oysters. The oysters, thought to be a new species, are 20 cm long and reside at a depth of 700 meters.
- World’s deepest known active hot vent - ChEss scientists in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge explored the world’s deepest known active hot vent, field named Ashadze. The hot vent is over 4,100 meters deep, dominated by anemones, polychaete worms and shrimp.
Juvenile representatives of the Antarctic and deep-sea genera of octopuses. Clockwise from top left , (1) Pareledone charcoti, a shallow-water species from the Antarctica Peninsula, (2) Thaumeledone gunteri, a deep-water species endemic to South Georgia, (3) Adelieledone polymoprha, a species endemic to the western Antarctic, (4) Megaleledone setebos, a shallow-water circum-Antarctic species endemic to the Southern Ocean. Photo credit: I. Everson (T. gunteri), M. Rauschert (M. setebos), L. Allcock (P. charcoti. A, polymorpha).
A brightly colored comb jelly swims in the high Arctic waters of the Canada Basin. Photo: Kevin Raskoff, Monterey Peninsula College.
Scientists involved in the project appear to be happy with the progress so far.
“Not only do we have a better picture of the distribution of the animals that stay in place, we are approaching a global picture of the movements of animals, whether swirling in eddies the size of Ireland, or commuting 8,000 kilometers across ocean basins,” said Ron O’Dor Canadian squid expert and Census co-senior scientist.
“And understanding how behavior and the environment combine to determine the movement of many animals is within reach.” he continued.
French deep-sea explorer and vice-chair of the Census, Myriam Sibuet (France) said “The impressive number of landmark findings over the past two years reveals the richness of what remains to be discovered. The vastness of the ocean and our new research tools keep marine biology forever young.”
About Census of Marine Life
The Census of Marine Life (CoML) is a 10-year scientific initiative to assess and explain life in the oceans. Including a global network of more than 2,000 researchers from 82 nations, the purpose of the initiative is to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life. The first consensus will be released in 2010.
The project was brought about by the fact that we still have relatively little knowledge about what lives in our oceans. To date, there isn’t a single list or database that contains all known marine species - let alone their distribution, and abundance.
Scientists estimate that there could be more than a million marine species if all small animals and protists are included. To date, only about 230,000 species have been described and reside in jars in collections in museums of natural history and other repositories.
The 4th CoML highlights report will be officially released at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, Valencia, Spain, Nov. 11-15.