Explorations deep in the Atlantic Ocean have uncovered what scientists believe are new species of tiny wing-footed snails, pulsing jellyfish and swimming worms in plankton.
The zooplankton species were discovered as researchers charted plankton to see if climate change is harming the base of the food system in the sea, and if acidification in the ocean is affecting sea life, scientists reported Thursday.
Plankton, the microscopic plant and animal organisms that drift in seas, oceans and lakes, helps to moderate climate by taking carbon to the bottom of the water. Oceans absorb carbon dioxide, but the process increases the amount of acidity in the water, which could make it more difficult for creatures like crabs to grow shells.
Fish and marine mammals, such as whales, feed on plankton.
More than two dozen marine scientists from 14 countries, including Canada, were on board for the 20-day survey of tropical waters between eastern United States and the mid-Atlantic ridge, including in the Bermuda Triangle, .
They found "what appear to be several undescribed species that may well prove new to science," said the expedition's scientific leader, Peter Wiebe, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States.
"It was tremendously exciting, the sense of discovery," Wiebe told Canadian Press. "There was huge excitement because people had not seen animals this size from these depths."
Samples were collected from the deepest waters of the ocean, down to 5,000 metres.
They are also studied DNA from the zooplankton, the animal component of plankton, completing in three weeks what once took years in the lab.
New species include:
The animals are usually millimetres long, but some, such as jellyfish, can range up to the four centimetres in length.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the study, which is part of the wider Census of Marine Life, a project to map the ocean life by 2010.