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Amazing deep-sea creatures found in an enormous underwater canyon

By Megan Hamilton     Mar 26, 2015 in Environment
Fremantle - A mysterious underwater canyon off of Australia's west coast has revealed its amazing biodiversity to scientists, and this canyon is so huge that it's larger than the Grand Canyon.
The scientists even recovered equipment that had been lost two years ago.
In their two-week trip to Perth Canyon, researchers discovered a treasure-trove of deep-sea creatures, including Venus Flytrap anemones and golden coral, LiveScience reports.
A species of VenusFytrap anemone (Actinoscyphia aurelia) found in the Gulf of Mexico  similar to the...
A species of VenusFytrap anemone (Actinoscyphia aurelia) found in the Gulf of Mexico, similar to the anemone found in Perth Canyon.
By Image courtesy of Aquapix and Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007, NOAA-OE (NOAA Photo Library) [Pu
Scientists from the University of Australia, the Western Australian Museum, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Institute of Marine Sciences in Italy, in collaboration with the Schmidt Ocean Institute, began their mission on March 1 aboard the research vessel Falkor. They sailed about 19 miles out of Fremantle and fired up a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the canyon.
"We have discovered near-pristine, sheer-drop cliffs of over 600 meters (1,968 feet) and mapped structures that are rarely found in other parts of the ocean," said Malcolm McCulloch, leader of the project and a professor of earth and the environment at the University of Western Australia, in a statement. "It is truly a huge canyon."
This oceanic marvel likely formed over 100 million years ago, according to the researchers. During this ancient time a river cut the canyon during rifting that separated western Australia and India, LiveScience reports. Now the canyon is rife with marine life, attracting blue whales and other creatures looking for a tasty meal. Researchers had long suspected that Perth Canyon was productive by observing the large congregations of pygmy whales and sharks that migrate there on a seasonal basis to feed, the institute reports.
One of the mission's primary goals was to run ROV surveys at different depths to better assess what animals might be found and how abundant they were. Researchers also wanted to locate the best sites for more focused study. In particular, they were expecting to find corals, sponges, sea fans, sea pens, urchins, sea stars, and large fish such as sharks, the Schmidt Ocean Institute reported.
They were not disappointed.
So much of the canyon's structure was mysterious to researchers as were the creatures that lived within it, until this expedition. The Falkor's cutting-edge mapping systems combined with the ROV, allowed the scientists to explore Perth Canyon at depths of more than 1.2 miles (2 km). Once the mission was completed, the research team had traveled more than 1,118 miles (1,800 km) to map the immense canyon's 154 square miles (400 square km).
The deepest point in the canyon is 2.6 miles (4,276 meters) below the ocean's surface, McCulloch said.
"It is at a depth where light can’t penetrate, making a dark water column where there are no signs of light from above or below," he said.
Despite the paucity of light, the scientists found a lively and surprisingly rich community of deep-sea animals that cling to the canyon's walls. One mile (1.6 km) below the surface, the team found brisingid seastars and mushroom soft corals. These creatures have been documented living in Perth Canyon before, and now they have been discovered in other deep-sea areas worldwide, LiveScience reports.
This beautiful brisingid sea star was found on a deep reef at a depth of 1 640 feet off the coast of...
This beautiful brisingid sea star was found on a deep reef at a depth of 1,640 feet off the coast of Roatan, Honduras. It's a relative of the sea stars found in Perth Canyon.
By NOAA's National Ocean Service (Brisingid Seastar) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses
This colorful mushroom soft coral is a relative of the ones found in Perth Canyon.  This one is from...
This colorful mushroom soft coral is a relative of the ones found in Perth Canyon. This one is from the Davidson Sea Mount, off the coast of California. It was found at a depth of 1,470 meters.
By NOAA/Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/bigs/expl0914.jpg) [P
As the main biodiversity hotspot between Ningaloo Reef and Kangaroo Island, the canyon marks the southern boundary for many groups of tropical species. The upwelling of deep ocean currents in the canyon creates a cold-water oasis rich in nutrients under the warm waters of the Leeuwin current, and this is what brings in the blue whales and other large creatures that migrate to the canyon seasonally to feed, ScienceNetwork Western Australia reports.
As they went along, the scientists used the ROV to snip samples of deep-sea corals, and hope to determine the age of the coral, how quickly it grows, and if ocean acidification or global warming has changed the corals' habitat,LiveScience reports.
This may also help other researchers, especially if they are studying deep-sea ecosystems and the factors that threaten survival in these places, the scientists say.
The Australian government has proposed that this magnificent canyon should be declared a marine park, ScienceNetwork reports.
More about deepsea creatures, perth canyon, Australia, schmidt ocean institute, leeuwin current
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