Mariana Trench expedition led by UH scientists breaks deep-sea fish records

A supergiant amphipod surrounded by fish. (Photo: SOI/HADES, Dr. Alan Jamieson)

Above: A compilation of video footage captured from deep sea lander vehicles, including supergiant amphipods.

During a recent expedition to Mariana Trench, an international team led by two University of Hawaii scientists found an active, thriving community of animals, including a new species of the deepest fish ever recorded.

The Hadal Ecosystem Studies expedition aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor differed from other deep-sea trench research by exploring life and geologic processes across the entire hadal zone, rather than focusing solely on the trench’s deepest point.

“Many studies have rushed to the bottom of the trench, but from an ecological view that is very limiting. It’s like trying to understand a mountain ecosystem by only looking at its summit,” said co-chief scientist Jeff Drazen. Patty Fryer was the other co-chief scientist.

Scientists sampled a broad spectrum of environments using five deep-sea vehicle systems called landers at specifically targeted depths from 5,000-10,600 meters (16,404–34,777 feet).

Their findings will help to answer important questions about Earth’s largest and least explored habitat, including what organisms live there and how life adapts to these extreme conditions, and how much carbon in the atmosphere reaches the deep sea and if it affects the food chains there.

New species were discovered on this expedition that will provide insight into the physiological adaptations of animals to this high-pressure environment.

Several records for deepest living fish, either caught or seen on video, were broken.

Setting the final record at 8,143 meters was a completely unknown variety of snailfish, filmed several times during seafloor experiments. The white translucent fish had broad wing-like fins, an eel-like tail and slowly glided over the bottom.

Additionally, the deepest rock samples ever obtained from the inner slope of the trench represent some of the earliest volcanic eruptions of the Mariana Island Arc. These rocks can provide significant information on the geology of the trench system.

“Rarely, do we get a full perspective of the ocean’s unique deep environments. The questions that the scientists will be able to answer following this cruise will pave the way for a better understanding of the deep sea, which is not exempt from human impact,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder and vice president of Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Falkor is now back in the Mariana Trench conducting research that will complement the previous expedition and continue to explore this unique environment.

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