Asia Pacific / Science & Health

Kin of 'world's ugliest animal' hauled from Australia abyss


Over 100 rarely seen species of fish were hauled up from a deep and cold abyss off Australia during a scientific voyage, researchers said Wednesday, including cousins of the “world’s ugliest animal” — Mr. Blobby.

Scientists spent a month on a vessel last year off the country’s eastern seaboard to survey life lurking up to 4.8 kilometers (2.9 miles) below the surface, using nets, sonar and deep-sea cameras.

Over 42,000 fish and invertebrates were caught, with some being potentially undiscovered species. Scientists will gather in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart this week to examine them more closely.

The haul includes several blobfish relatives of Mr. Blobby, which was voted the world’s ugliest animal in 2013 by the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and became a global media sensation.

Blobby, from the Psychrolutidae family, was discovered off the coast of New Zealand in 2003 and was affectionately named by the scientists who found it.

Other species unearthed during last year’s voyage included stereotypical-looking yet bioluminescent sharks with razor-sharp serrated teeth, a haul of frightening lizardfish and graceful tripodfish, which prop themselves on the seafloor with long fins waiting for food to drift within reach.

Scientists have previously revealed they also came across an unusual faceless fish, which has only been recorded once before off Papua New Guinea in 1873 by the HMS Challenger’s pioneering crew.

Museums Victoria ichthyologist Martin Gomon said the gathering in Hobart was the first systematic attempt to examine life at abyssal depths anywhere along Australia’s vast coastline.

“The discoveries provide us with a glimpse into how our marine fauna fits into the interconnected abyssal environment worldwide and, for the scientists, adds another piece to the puzzle of what affects evolution in the deep sea,” he said.

“For those of us aboard it was a real buzz to see the amazing fishes that provide this information as they emerged from the nets, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to take a closer look at them in Hobart this week.”

Life at such depths is one of crushing pressure, no light, little food and freezing temperatures, with animals that call it home evolving unique ways to survive.

As food is scarce, they are usually small and move slowly. Many are jelly-like and spend their lives floating about. Others have ferocious spines and fangs and lie in wait until food comes to them.

CSIRO ichthyologist John Pogonoski described the trip as “frontier science” that is vital for increasing scientists’ understanding of the deep-sea environment.

“We are investigating possible new species and fishes never before recorded in Australian waters,” he said.

The voyage, an international collaboration led by Museums Victoria, was the first survey of the abyssal waters off Australia’s east coast.

Australian National Fish Collection manager Alastair Graham said it -s the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering one-third of Australia’s territory.

“But it remains the most unexplored environment on Earth,” he said.