"He drinks her
blood in return for giving her sperm..."
Scientists from Australia and New Zealand have identified more than 100 new species of fish in the waters that divide the two countries.
The Tangaroa, a deep-sea research ship, probed the Tasman Sea for four weeks last year, snaring 500 species of fish and 1,300 species of invertebrates. The 24 researchers also found the fossilised tooth of a megalodon, an extinct shark that was twice the size of the great white shark.
The project, funded by Australia's National Oceans Office and New Zealand's Ministry of Fisheries, uncovered weird and wonderful sea dwellers, including fish with tongues covered in teeth and fish with hinged teeth that enable them to swallow large meals. Another creature, the Pacific spookfish, uses its long snout like a metal detector to search out the electrical impulses of prey concealed in the seabed.
Among the species hauled in from more than a mile beneath the waves was the dumbo octopus, which navigates through the water with the help of a pair of flaps. According to Dr Mark Norman, a senior curator at Museum Victoria, it looks like "the cartoon character Dumbo the flying elephant".
One of the most curious discoveries made by the scientists concerned the mating habits of the deep sea angler fish. Dr Norman described the female as being the size of a tennis ball, with "big savage teeth, little nasty pin eyes ... and a rod lure off the top of her head with a glowing tip to coax in stupid prey", while the male looked like "a black jellybean with fins".
During copulation, the male bites the female and hangs on. "He drinks her blood in return for giving her sperm," Dr Norman told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. The flesh of the two fish then fuses together and they remain permanently connected. "It's like sexual vampirism," Dr Norman said. "We found females with up to six males attached."
Scientists from 11 research organisations took part in what is the first detailed survey of the deep-sea life around the submerged mountains of the northern Tasman Sea. Dr Norman said that more than 100 of the fish and invertebrate species discovered were either unrecognised or new to science. Others had been spotted only a few times in the past.
In one cup of sand, scientists found 250 species of tiny snails. They found giant sea spiders, which bear little resemblance to land spiders, having such small bodies that some of their organs are situated in their legs.
They were also intrigued by the fangtooth, which has two sharp teeth that poke out of its bottom jaw and slide into pockets in its head.
Among the new species identified was a deep-water batfish that walks along
the ocean bed. Dr Norman said: "Their fins are almost modified into legs,
and the head comes to a point like a unicorn. It's pretty weird."