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Kermadec Trench: The deep-water womble

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1st officer Steve Bailey (L) and Alan Jamieson (R) showing off the large cusk eels caught in the new legendary ‘big trap’ (back left). Photo courtesy of NIWA/University of Aberdeen, UK.

1st officer Steve Bailey (L) and Alan Jamieson (R) showing off the large cusk eels caught in the new legendary ‘big trap’ (back left). Photo courtesy of NIWA/University of Aberdeen, UK.

Ah, I forgot what a joy it is to be on the Kaharoa, a veritable floating bowl of jokes. It is days like today when all the months of preparation and the long hours on deck really pay off.

We brought in all three landers this morning; the abyssal lander from 4000 meters, the fish trap from 4250 meters and the hadal-lander from 4500 meters.

The video footage was fantastic. Lots of macrourids (grenadiers) and ophidiids (cusk eels). The still images from the abyssal lander were rather spectacular too, showing just how abundant fish are at these deep water sites.

However, the big news from today came from the fish trap. So far we have had a few interesting samples from the trap, but today we got some real goodies: two large ophidiids (Spectrunculus cf. crassas), a nice big macrourid (Coryphaenoides armatus) and…believe it or not… a new species of fish!

The new species of zoarcid (Pachycara sp.) from 4250 m. Photo courtesy of NIWA/University of Aberdeen, UK.

The new species of zoarcid (Pachycara sp.) from 4250 m. Photo courtesy of NIWA/University of Aberdeen, UK.

The new species of fish is a zoarcid, otherwise known as an eel-pout and this one is of the genus Pachycara. We have photographed them a lot this week and now we have the sample to show that it is new. We are all understandably excited by this find, some more so than others I might add, but what a great result. In fact, the whole 4000-4500 meters site has been a great success.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with zoarcids, they are relatively small, pinky fish that lie on the seafloor, looking somewhat sorry for themselves. They are grazing predators and are likely to be picking off amphipods that engulf the bait. To be honest, they look a lot like wombles (which if you are as unfamiliar with wombles as you are zoarcids, I suggest a quick internet image search).

So, with another few tens of gigabytes of imaging data, a few more fish and a deep-water womble under our belts, we re-deployed all three systems to 5000, 5250 and 5500 meters and spent the rest of the day sitting on deck looking smug and enjoying the sun after a hard days graft.

Previously in this series:

Kermadec Trench: Cook, Kermadec and Kaharoa

Previous research in the Kermadec Trench

Kermadec Trench: Scuttling your Assets

Kermadec Trench: Boring eels

Kermadec Trench: The Cosmopolitan Rattail

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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