Scientists break record for deepest fish ever caught on camera – Sydney Morning Herald

Scientists break record for deepest fish ever caught on camera - Sydney Morning Herald

Scientists have broken the record for the deepest fish ever caught on camera after capturing video of a juvenile snailfish swimming along the bottom of a Japanese ocean trench at an extraordinary depth of 8336 metres.

The snailfish, which grow to 25 centimetres long and resemble bloated, ghostly tadpoles, were lured out of the pitch-black depths of the Izu-Ogasawara Trench in Japan by a mackerel researchers had tied to an autonomous camera as bait.

“The really cool thing about snailfish is that they’re not usually deep-sea fish at all,” Professor Alan Jamieson, chief scientist of the expedition, said.

“There are more than 300 different types and most of them are shallow-water species. But they’ve backed into every conceivable environment, and one of those environments is very, very deep.”

The trench-dwelling snailfish caught on camera are a new species. They live 1000 metres below the next deepest fish and they could be the species living at the most extreme depth on the planet.

Jamieson, who founded Perth’s Minderoo-UWA Deep-Sea Research Centre, said the snailfish defy the stereotype of creatures that lurk in the depths.

The deepest fish ever filmed (left) and the deepest fish ever caught (right).

The deepest fish ever filmed (left) and the deepest fish ever caught (right).Credit:The Minderoo-UWA Deep Sea Research Centre

“They’re actually sort of goofy looking. They’re certainly not the big monsters of the deep,” he said. “They’re very transparent, they have gel rather than skin. When they swim past the camera, you’ll see an orange haze on its belly – that’s actually its liver.”

Jamieson’s team, working with Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, beat their previous record of a snailfish filmed in the Mariana Trench at 8178 metres.


To capture the footage, scientists sunk a deep-sea “lander” containing cameras and monitoring equipment supported by a metal frame into the trench.

Researchers let the cameras roll for six hours before they hauled the lander back up – which took another three hours – and cracked open the camera’s SD card.

Jamieson wasn’t even sure there would be fish that far down in the trench. But they were in a productive patch of the Pacific Ocean, where plenty of food fritters down into the depths, and the water is relatively warm, so it was more likely there would be fish that managed to make the deepest crannies of the Izu-Ogasawara Trench home.

“It’s nice to be right,” said Jamieson.

The researchers also set the record for the deepest fish ever caught when they trapped two snailfish at the bottom of the nearby Japan Trench, 8022 metres below the surface. They’re the first fish collected from a depth greater than eight kilometres.

“We’re looking at why certain animals can go this deep, what’s happening on the molecular level,” Jamieson said. “We took a very tiny tissue sample to look at the phylogenetics and see if there are uncommon traits that explain their evolutionary history – we rarely ever catch anything this deep.”

Jameison previously steered efforts to pull off the deepest ever catch off Australian waters. Last year, his team used a $100,000 deep sea monitoring device and a $30 yabby trap purchased from a Perth tackle store to catch a snailfish 6500 metres below the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Dedicated to exposing the deep sea’s secrets, Jamieson rejects the oft-repeated myth that we know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean.

“As a culture, we tell our kids as soon as they’re old enough to read that the deep sea is a dark, horrible, scary place and you shouldn’t care about it,” he said.

“But we want to understand how the whole ocean works. Not just the easy bit that you can dive to.”

Liam Mannix’s Examine newsletter explains and analyses science with a rigorous focus on the evidence. Sign up to get it each week.

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