NEW YORK: This new species of snailfish was discovered 7 kilometres down in the Peru-Chile trench in the south-east Pacific Ocean using a deep-sea baited camera system.
Snailfish are known to thrive at extreme depths: another variety, Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis, previously held the undisputed record for deepest-living fish at 7703 meters. Handling the intense pressure of the deep sea is a challenge for most animals because it impedes muscles and nerves and bends proteins out of shape, disrupting the working of enzymes required for life.
But this creature, which was filmed several times at a depth of 8,143 meters, or 26,715 feet, has a different body shape from known species of snailfish, so it might be something else entirely. But one thing is for certain, the scientists told the BBC — it’s definitely not a species we’ve seen before.
“We think it is a snailfish, but it’s so weird-looking; it’s up in the air in terms of what it is,” Alan Jamieson of the University of Aberdeen told the BBC. “It is unbelievably fragile, and when it swims, it looks like it has wet tissue paper floating behind it. And it has a weird snout — it looks like a cartoon dog snout.”
So how do these ghostly fish manage to live at these crushing depths? Deep-sea fish have higher levels of a chemical called trimethylamine oxide (TMAO). TMAO helps proteins maintain their shape as pressure mounts. Fish shouldn’t be able hold enough TMAO in their cells to live below 8,200 meters, according to recent research by Jamieson — so these new fish may very well be permanent record-holders.