Extraordinary new creatures from the sea floor in the Indian Ocean

Bird flying over cocos (keeling) islands
Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria

The CSIRO’s flagship vessel RV Investigator has just returned from the second of two scientific journeys to the northeast Indian Ocean.

The journey, led by Museums Victoria, is bringing back a treasure trove of specimens – including newly discovered eels, batfishes, spiderfishes, and pumice stones that probably came from the catastrophic 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.

Batfish: beige, round flat fish with round black eyes, short spiky tail an two fins poking out its back that resemble legs
The deep-sea batfish, which uses its armlike limbs to cross the sea floor. Batfishes have hollow snouts containing tiny fishing lures to attract prey. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria

When Cosmos chatted to Voyage Chief Scientist Dr Tim O’Hara, Museums Victoria Research Institute’s senior curator of marine invertebrates, he told us that most of the places they’re investigating around Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands have never been seen before by people.

Person holding small sprig of coral under desk-mounted microscope
Taxonomist Dr Jeremy Horowitz investigating back coral aboard the RV Investigator. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria

They’re also mapping the ocean floor around the area for the first time, and collecting data that will take curators and ecologists back in Australia years – or even decades – to fully process.

You can watch our interview with O’Hara here – or scroll down to see it, and some more of the astonishing things the researchers are finding.

Blind eel: transparent whitish eel against a black background
This is a previously unknown-to-science blind eel, found at around 5km deep. At that depth, there’s not much light – which is why the eel has poorly developed eyes and transparent skin. The females give birth to live young: uncommon in fish. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Shiny grey-black jaw of fish with eye at top
The front of a fish from the genus Malacodsteus, or stoplight loosejaw. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Sloane's viperfish: long grey-black fish with protruding bottom jaw filled with teeth
Sloane’s Viperfish can’t afford to be self-conscious about its teeth: they’re visible, even when the jaw is closed. Viperfish can bioluminesce on their undersides and upper fins, to attract prey. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Flatfish: grey wide fish with one normally placed eye and one eye at a strange angle on the fish head
A flatfish – from the order Pleuronectiformes. These fish have both eyes on one side of the head: you can see that one eye is placed confortably above the jaw, while the other has migrated around so that the fish can lie camouflaged on the sea floor. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Lizard fish: pale pink-white fish with black eye and lots of tiny spiky teeth
The Highfin Lizard Fish are very toothy deep-sea predators. They’re simultaneous hermaphrodites: they have workin male and female reproductive tissue at the same time. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Spiderfish: black fish with prominent downwards fins and whiskers, 24cm in length
This is – probably – an attenuated spiderfish, but the researchers aren’t sure. Spiderfish can prop themselves up on their fins on the ocean floor, allowing them to snack on prawns that drift by. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Grey and pink eel curled in on itself
An as yet unidentified or unclassified type of cutthroat eel, or Synophobranchus. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Reddish eel with small eye and teeth
An eel from the family Congridae. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Cusk eel: shiny dark grey eel with curved tail
A type of Lamprogrammus: a cusk-eel. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria
Dark tooth-shaped object
The crew aren’t just discovering live creatures: there are plenty of ancient rocks and fossils to be found too. This is from a white shark. Credit: Benjamin Healley / Museums Victoria

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Watch our interview with Dr Tim O’Hara:

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