tampabay.com

Mysterious sea

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published December 11, 2006


WASHINGTON - Peering deep into the sea, scientists are finding creatures more mysterious than many could have imagined.

At one site, nearly 2 miles deep in the Atlantic, shrimp were living around a vent that was releasing water heated to 765 degrees Fahrenheit. Water surrounding the site was a chilly 36 degrees.

An underwater peak in the Coral Sea was home to a type of shrimp thought to have gone extinct 50-million years ago.

"Animals seem to have found a way to make a living just about everywhere," said Jesse Ausubel of the Sloan Foundation, discussing the findings in 2006 - year six of the Census of Marine Life.

Added Ron O'Dor, a senior scientist with the census: "We can't find anyplace where we can't find anything new."

This year's update, released Sunday, is part of a study of life in the oceans that is scheduled for final publication in 2010. The census is an international effort supported by governments, divisions of the United Nations and private conservation organizations. About 2,000 researchers from 80 countries are participating.

Ausubel said there are nearly 16,000 known species of marine fish and 70,000 kinds of marine mammals. About 2,000 have been discovered during the census.

The researchers conducted 19 ocean expeditions this year; a 20th continues in the Antarctic. In addition, they operated 128 nearshore sampling sites and, using satellites, followed more than 20 tagged species including sharks, squid, sea lions and albatross.

Highlights of the 2006 research

- Shrimp, clams and mussels live near a superhot thermal vent in the Atlantic, where they face pulses of water that is near-boiling despite shooting into the frigid sea.

- In the sea surrounding the Antarctic, a marine community lives shrouded in darkness beneath more than 1,600 feet of ice. Sampling of this remote ocean yielded more new species than familiar ones.

- In the Coral Sea, the type of shrimp called Neoglyphea neocaledonica was found alive and well, even though it was thought to have disappeared millions of years ago. Researchers nicknamed it the Jurassic shrimp.

- A 4-pound rock lobster was discovered off Madagascar.

- A new type of crab, right, was found near Easter Island. It was so unusual it warranted a new family designation: Kiwaidae, named for Kiwa, the Polynesian goddess of shellfish. Its furry appearance justified its species name, hirsuta, meaning hairy.