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Recently found supergiant amphipods. (Photo: Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, UK)

Supergiant shrimp unearthed

Click on the flag for more information about New Zealand NEW ZEALAND
Friday, February 03, 2012, 22:20 (GMT + 9)

Scientists from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the University of Aberdeen have retrieved the largest known samples of a shrimp species that looks like a giant albino flea.

When researchers took a trip recently to the Kermadec Trench, they introduced submergence cameras and a large trap into the water to determine how far down deep-sea snailfish could be found. The team then came across "supergiant" amphipods, or deep-sea scavengers that feed on dead organic material.

"When the first big trap came out, first of all we said, great, we've got five fish", Ashley Rowden of NIWA recounted. "But then we looked and said, 'What the hell is that?'"

The scientists realized that not only were the amphipods a record size of up to just over 28 cm, but also these speciments were found 7 km below the ocean's surface, at a distance far deeper than ever before, Fairfax NZ News reports.

Moreover, the biggest specimen spotted on camera measured a staggering 34cm, reports BBC News.

Deep-sea amphipods, which are related to the sandhoppers typically found on any beach, normally measure 2 or 3 cm in length.

Toyo Fujii, Alan Jamieson (University of Aberdeen) and Ashley Rowden (NIWA) with the supergiant amphipods. (Photo: Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, UK)


Up until this last trip, the research team had only known of two occasions when "supergiants" had been found anywhere on the globe. The last sightings took place at Kermadec in the 1950s.

“The surprising thing is that we have already been to this deep trench twice and never come across these animals before”, said expedition leader Dr Alan Jamieson from the University of Aberdeen, APNZ reports.

Location of the Kermadic Trench. (Map: NIWA)


“A few days after the discovery, we deployed all the equipment again on the same site and we didn't photograph or capture a single supergiant. They were there for a day and gone the next”, he told.

The latest discovery stresses how much more is left to discover and learn about the 10km-deep Kermadec trench, Rowden noted.

"The marine realm of New Zealand is huge and it contains some unique creatures, yet the number of samples we've taken from it is incredibly low", she highlighted.

Researchers took the amphipods to NIWA's laboratory in Wellington for storage, but the samples would soon be moved to Aberdeen so scientists there could determine if they made up a distinct species.

Rowden said the scientists are also hoping to establish why, of the hundreds of species of deep-sea amphipods, amphipods were so largely sized.

"We're really waving our arms at the moment --there are lots of questions swimming about. We don't know how big these things can get", she added.

By Natalia Real
[email protected]
www.fis.com


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