Deep-sea researchers have discovered three new species of ghostly fish in one of the deepest places on earth.
The three species—temporarily named the pink, blue, and purple Atacama snailfishes— are gelatinous eel-like creatures that thrive under crushing pressure. With their teeth and tiny inner ear bones making up the hardest parts of their bodies, they are so well-adapted to the unrelenting squeeze of the depths that they turn to mush if brought to the surface.
Small, translucent and lacking scales, the strange-looking snailfish look quite different from other terrifying deep-sea creatures (think: fangtooths, anglerfish and goblin sharks, which pack rows of razor-sharp teeth.)
An international group of 40 researchers spotted the unusual fishes 25,000 feet deep in the Atacama Trench, an oceanic trench 100 miles off the coast of Peru and Chile. It took the team up to a whopping 4 hours to lower their lander—a high-tech device with bait, monitors, and cameras—to the bottom of the trench, where they were able to capture novel footage of the unusual creatures.
The trench is a cold, dark, and dreary place; it’s impossible for light to travel that far underwater, and the temperature hovers just above freezing at 34°F. Lucky for the snailfish, the inhospitable environment means they’re the only predators in the area, so they’ve got their choice of prey to dine on whenever they choose.
“As the footage clearly shows, there are lots of invertebrate prey down there and the snailfish are the top predator, they seem to be quite active and look very well-fed,” said Dr Thomas Linley, a deep-sea fish expert from Newcastle University, said in a statement.
The scientists managed to bring one fish to the surface to preserve for further research at the Natural History Museum of London.