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Trail: UnderTheSea


lobster Dr. O’Dor was on a cruise to the Arctic last year that made a number of finds, including a pink octopus that had never been seen that far north. But the Antarctic waters were darker, he said in a recent telephone interview from Britain where he was attending a conference. The thick ice blocks the sun, so no light gets through.

This is the sixth year of the marine census, an ambitious project that involves 2,000 researchers from 80 countries trying to get a handle on what is living in the world’s oceans.

The researchers have conducted expeditions to previously unexplored deep-sea vents, underwater mountains, coral reefs, the Arctic and the Antarctic.

They have used satellites to track sharks, squid, sea lions, albatrosses and other tagged animals travelling thousands of kilometres.

Among the highlights from the discoveries made this year:
A school of fish the size of Manhattan off the New Jersey coast. About 20 million herring were travelling together.

A shrimp believed extinct for 50 million years ago was found on an underwater peak in the Coral Sea near Australia. It is has been nicknamed Jurassic Shrimp. It is the same colour as modern shrimp, but looks bulkier.

Sooty shearwaters average 350 kilometres a day in their search for food. A satellite tracked the movements of the seabirds as they made a giant figure eight over the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand to Japan, Alaska, California and back. The journey took 200 days, and in some cases, a breeding pair made the trip together.

A new species of rock lobster in Madagascar that may be the largest in the world. Its body spans half a metre.

A new species of furry crab near Easter Island, nicknamed the Yeti Crab.

A giant single-cell organism in the Nazare Canyon off Portugal. Protozoans can usually be seen swimming in a drop of water under a microscope. This one, found 4,300 metres beneath the surface, was a centimetre in diameter.

The deep ocean is free of sharks, which live at 1,500 metres or above.

Scientists working on the marine census also learned more about zooplankton, the tiny drifters that are at the mercy of the ocean’s currents. They identified 500 species, including a transparent jellyfish they didn’t know they had captured until they held its gooey body in their hands. These “sea bugs,” as they are sometimes called, are essential to life as we know it, and include flying snails, swimming worms and shrimp-like creatures that paddle with oar-like feet. They are food for bigger fish and marine animals and also help moderate the climate by transporting carbon to the bottom of the sea.

Another team found 10 to 100 times more species of bacteria than they expected to, including rare microbes that may be relics from the early days of the planet.