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Scientists Discover New Species in One of World’s Deepest Ocean Trenches

The findings by a team of marine biologists from Aberdeen, Tokyo and New Zealand, have shed new light on life in the deepest places on Earth and the global distribution of fish in our oceans.

The expedition to the Peru-Chile trench in the South East Pacific Ocean revealed a new species of snailfish living at 7000m, never before caught or captured on camera.

Mass groupings of cusk-eels and large crustacean scavengers were also discovered living at these depths for the first time.

During the three-week expedition on the research vessel Sonne, the team of scientists employed state-of-the-art deep-sea imaging technology, including an ultra-deep free-falling baited camera system, to take a total of 6000 images between 4500 and 8000 metres deep within the trench.

The expedition is the seventh to take place as part of HADEEP -- a collaborative research project between the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab and the University of Tokyo's Ocean Research Institute, with support from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research institute (NIWA).

The HADEEP team has been investigating extreme depths across the globe for 3 years. Their findings to date have included capturing the world's deepest fish on camera for the first time.

These latest discoveries provide a new insight into the depths at which fish survive and the diversity of populations which could exist in the deepest points of oceans across the globe.

Dr Alan Jamieson from the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab, who led the expedition said: "Our findings, which revealed diverse and abundant species at depths previously thought to be void of fish, will prompt a rethink into marine populations at extreme depths.

"This expedition was prompted by our findings in 2008 and 2009 off Japan and New Zealand where we discovered new species of snailfish known as Liparids -- inhabiting trenches off Japan and New Zealand at depths of approximately 7000m -- with each trench hosting its own unique species of the fish.

"To test whether these species would be found in all trenches, we repeated our experiments on the other side of the Pacific Ocean off Peru and Chile, some 6000 miles from our last observations. "What we found was that indeed there was another unique species of snailfish living at 7000m -- entirely new to science, which had never been caught or seen before.

"A species of cusk-eel -- known as Ophidiids -- also gathered at our camera and began a feeding frenzy that lasted 22 hours -- the entire duration of the deployment.

"Further research needs to be conducted to decipher whether this is also an entirely new species of cusk-eel that we have discovered.

"Our investigations also revealed a species of crustacean scavengers -- known as amphipods -- which we previously did not know existed at these depths in such great numbers.

Dr Niamh Kilgallen, an amphipod expert from NIWA said:"The sheer abundance of these big amphipods was overwhelming, particularly at 7000 and 8000m, which is much deeper than they have been found in any other trench. It begs the question of why and how they can live so deep in this trench but not in any other."

Dr Toyonobu Fujii, a deep-sea fish expert from the University of Aberdeen said "How deep fish can live has long been an intriguing question and the results from this expedition has provided deeper insight into our understanding of the global distribution of fish in the oceans."

Dr Jamieson added: "These findings prompt a re-evaluation of the diversity and abundance of life at extreme depths. Furthermore, it is now apparent that each of the deep trenches across the globe hosts a unique assembly of animals which can differ greatly from trench to trench. The immense isolation of each trench draws parallels with island evolution theory popularised by Darwin's finches." The HADEEP project is funded by the Nippon Foundation, Japan, and NERC, UK.

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The Liparidae, commonly known as snailfish or seasnails,[1] are a family of scorpaeniform marine fishes. Widely distributed from the Arctic to Antarctic Oceans including the northern Pacific, the snailfish family contains 30 genera and 361 species.[2] They are closely related to the sculpins of the family Cottidae and the lumpfish of the family Cyclopteridae. Snailfish are sometimes included within the latter family.

The snailfish family is poorly studied and few specifics are known. Their elongated, tadpole-like bodies are similar in profile to the rattails. Their heads are large with small eyes; their bodies are slender to deep, tapering to very small tails. The extensive dorsal and anal fins may merge or nearly merge with the tail fin. Snailfish are scaleless with a thin, loose gelatinous skin; some species, such as the spiny snailfish (Acantholiparis opercularis) have prickly spines, as well. Their teeth are small and simple with blunt cusps. The deep-sea species have prominent, well-developed sensory pores on the head, part of the animals' lateral line system.

The pectoral fins are large and provide the snailfish with its primary means of locomotion although they are fragile. They are benthic fish with pelvic fins modified to form an adhesive disc; this nearly circular disc is absent in Paraliparis and Nectoliparis species. Snailfish range in size from Paraliparis australis at 5 cm (2.0 in) to Polypera simushirae at some 77 cm (30 in) in length. The latter species may reach a weight of 11 kg (24 lb), but most species are smaller. Snailfish are of no interest to commercial fisheries.

Occurrence and habitat[edit]

The habitats chosen by snailfish are as widely variable as their size; they are found in both shallow intertidal zones and at depths of 7,500 m (24,600 ft) or more, in both cold and warm waters. The diminutive inquiline snailfish (Liparis inquilinus) of the northwestern Atlantic is known to live out its life inside the mantle cavity of the scallop Placopecten magellanicus. The kelp snailfish (Liparis tunicatus) lives amongst the kelp forests of the Bering Strait and the estuary of the St. Lawrence River. The single species in genus Rhodichthys is endemic to the Norwegian Sea.[3] Other species are found on muddy or silty bottoms of continental slopes. Snailfish are abundant in most (especially polar) waters and are highly resilient.

In October 2008, a UK-Japan team discovered a shoal of Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis at a depth of 7.7 km (4.8 mi) in the Japan Trench.[4]

In December 2014, a completely unknown variety of snailfish was spotted by a probe in the Mariana Trench at a depth of 8.143 km, breaking the previous record for the deepest living fish, caught or seen on video. [5]


Reproductive strategies are also known to vary among the species. At least one species, the abyssal snailfish (Careproctus ovigerum) of the North Pacific, is known to practice mouth brooding; that is, the male of the species carries the developing eggs around in his mouth. All species are known to lay a small number (about 300) of relatively large eggs (4.5–8 mm in diameter). Other species of the genus Careproctus lay their eggs in the gill cavities of king crabs.


The diet of snailfish consists primarily of small benthic crustaceans, mollusks, polychaete worms, and other small invertebrates. Some species are also piscivorous. Specialist species such as Paraliparis rosaceus feed exclusively on sea cucumbers.


This family currently contains these genera:[6][7][8]


  1. ^ "The Sea Snails. Family Liparidae". Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Retrieved March 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ Liparidae at Encyclopedia of Life
  3. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Norwegian Sea. Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. P.Saundry & C.J.Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  4. ^ Morelle, Rebecca (October 7, 2008). "'Deepest ever' living fish filmed". BBC News. 
  5. ^ http://www.schmidtocean.org/story/show/3584
  6. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2012). "Liparidae" in FishBase. December 2012 version.
  7. ^ a b Stein, D.L. (2012): A Review of the Snailfishes (Liparidae, Scorpaeniformes) of New Zealand, Including Descriptions of a New Genus and Sixteen New Species. Zootaxa, 3588: 1–54.
  8. ^ a b Balushkin, A.V. (2012): Volodichthys gen. nov. New Species of the Primitive Snailfish (Liparidae: Scorpaeniformes) of the Southern Hemishpere. Description of New Species V. solovjevae sp. nov. (Cooperation Sea, the Antarctic). Journal of Ichthyology, 52 (1): 1–10.
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