An expedition to explore the hidden depths around Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands has returned with some surprising finds. A team, led by the Museums Victoria Research Institute, Australia, set off from Darwin on September 30 for a 35-day voyage on the research vessel (RV) Investigator, operated by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.
In addition to using a multibeam sonar to complete the first high-resolution map of the ocean floor of the region, the mission aimed to conduct an extensive study of biodiversity in the region.
“The wide range of research capabilities offered by the RV Investigator will again be on display during this voyage with scientific data collected both above and below the waves of the Indian Ocean, from high in the atmosphere to the abyssal depths of over 5,000 meters [16,404 feet]. This data will be vital in enhancing our understanding of this remote and important area of Australia’s ocean floor,” Toni Moate, Director of the CSIRO National Maritime Facility, said in a statement.
Dr Tim O’Hara, Chief Scientist and Senior Curator, Marine Invertebrates at Museums Victoria, has suggested that up to a third of the marine species discovered by the team may be brand new to science. As Museums Victoria’s senior collections manager, Dianne Bray, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “Life in the deep sea is so little known that it really is a lucky dip.”
Judging by some of the dazzling discoveries that have been shared on social media, it seems that this plunge into the unknown was very fortunate indeed. Here are some of the highlights.
First up, we have this adorable walking pufferfish (look at the little face!). As the name suggests, these guys aren’t the best swimmers, so they use their fins as limbs to walk on the sea floor.
Upping the super cute stakes even more is the charming sponge crab.
Speaking of crabs, the team found this otherworldly hermit crab using a coral squid called a zoanthid as its shell.
And if that wasn’t weird enough, check out these deep-sea fish that were pulled from 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the surface.
Not all were deep-dwellers. Researchers also captured these amazing shots of flying fish.
However, the award for most impressive specimen of all might have to go to (drumroll please)… the three-legged spider.
Not much is known about these deep sea dwellers. They use their long fin rays to prop themselves up on the ocean floor, just waiting for the small crustaceans they feed on to come to them. Sounds like the kind of lifestyle we could live.
The mission may have come to an end, but the study of the scientific samples collected is just beginning. As Museums Victoria Director and CEO Lynley Crosswell said before the team set off, “The research results from this voyage will be invaluable to our understanding of Australia’s deep-sea environment and the impact people have on it.”
You can see more findings from this and previous RV Investigator missions using the hashtag #rvinvestigator.