Sea expedition reveals bizarre creatures

CanWest News Service
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Going where no man has ever gone before, a diving robot has retrieved samples and images of bizarre creatures from deep off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Going where no man has ever gone before, a diving robot has retrieved samples and images of bizarre creatures from deep off the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Marine scientists in Dartmouth sent the robot into the Sable gully marine protected area and several other regions where it registered photos of an octopus with ears that make it resemble Dumbo the Elephant and other equally strange animals.

Everything there was new to us, said Ellen Kenchington, a research scientist with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and chief scientist on the 21-day expedition.

During July, a boatload of marine scientists on the Canadian Coast Guard ship Hudson marvelled at the otherworldly animals their diving robot spotted and brought back from the ocean floor two-and-a-half kilometres beneath them.

Much of the research took place in the Sable Gully marine protected area, Atlantic Canadas first MPA established in 2004 and which is located some 200 kilometres off the Nova Scotia coast. The gully is the largest canyon along North Americas seaboard.

Its like the Grand Canyon flooded, Kenchington said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The scientist said the gully is a prime area for study because of its protected status. Numerous marine scientists and oceanographers have converged there and their varied research is coming together to create an in-depth picture of the regions unique eco-system.

Just how unique is it?

Below the waters surface among the exotically coloured corrals, Kenchington believes they may have found a previously unknown starfish species. Elsewhere, they witnessed scallop-like animals with bright orange body cavities hanging suspended from a cliff while they fed.

But the strangest sight may have been the octopuses dubbed Dumbo. During the submersible robots second dive, the operator suddenly swerved the camera to follow a one-metre-in-length octopus with large fins attached to its head.

Later, the researchers spotted two babies, one in the gully, another off the Newfoundland coast. Each were the size of a saucer with the full-grown fins of an adult. Then you can see why they call it Dumbo, Kenchington said. It has these big fins that look like elephant ears sticking off of it.

The discoveries continued. A researcher from Memorial University in Newfoundland collected a species of coral over 800 years in age. By examining the corals growth, its possible to tell years when it was cold or warm, Kenchington said.

Organizations: Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Canadian Coast Guard, Memorial University in Newfoundland

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Dartmouth North Americas Grand Canyon

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