“Stars hung suspended” — robot camera finds ice-dwelling anemones

A robot camera in the Antarctic Ocean found something that no one was looking for: bloodless sea anemones anchored to the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf. The researchers, from the University of Nebraska, dropped their camera-robot through the 270-metre-thick ice to explore sea currents and test their machine. The team did not include any biologists but they preserved some of the tiny animals for later study. These are the first anemones found that live in or on ice: ANDRILL team discovers ice-loving sea anemones in Antarctica. They are only a couple of centimetres high.

“The white anemones have been named Edwardsiella andrillae, in honor of the ANDRILL program.” I guess we’ll have to look at PLoS One to discover why they were placed in Edwardsiella so quickly. (the anemones, not the bacteria): Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice.

The large-scale image of the discovery is stunning.

Ice-dwelling anemones

New species around Antarctic thermal vents

Thermal vents in other oceans have mussels, shrimp, and giant tube worms. But there’s a huge founder effect–each is colonized by the first lucky organisms to find it and survive close to, but not touching, the superheated water that streams out of them. Newly discovered vents in the floor of the Antarctic Ocean have unique ecosystems, with new specie of barnacles, anemones, and snails. One has hairy crabs that eat the bacteria that grow in their hair, along with seven-armed brittle stars that pray on the crabs.

small, rounded white crab climbing into piles like pyramids

Piles of pale, hairy crabs

The food base for all vents are chemoautotrophic bacteria–meaning they can extract energy from the chemicals in their superheated water. Many of them oxydize molecules of hydrogen sulphide. Because of the pressure, the water can’t boil and is as hot as 380° C or 720° F. These vents are called “black smokers” because precipitating minerals darken the water as it cools.

The crabs are a new species, but not quite unique–other species of hairy crabs have been found at vents in warmer oceans.

white octopus curling its tentacles

An unidentified pale octopus

These deep-sea vents are explored only by remotely operated [submarine] vehicles (ROVs) with lights, video cameras, and sampling arms. The white octopus seemed to be attracted to their light and might not be a vent creature.

UPDATE: “There’s a crab in a vent in a hole in the bottom of the sea!”

The chambered nautilus isn’t protected?

Silly me. I would have thought that the unique biological status of the chambered nautilus as the irreplaceable last example of the shelled cephalopods that cruised the Devonian seas would have given it protection. I was wrong. Our penchant for making beautiful ornaments out of its murdered shells is soooo much more important! Loving the chambered nautilus to death. I mean, hell! There are all of six known populations.

New species of manta ray

Larger, shyer manta ray

The manta ray is the largest species of ray in the world. Off the coast of Mozambique, Andrea Marshall found a previously unknown, related species, she announced in 2008. The new species has not yet been named. It seems to prefer deeper waters and may migrate long distances.

Manta circles researcher

Dr. Marshall made the discovery when she was a PhD candidate. Not too surprisingly, she got her doctorate!

Marine dynasty

The grandson of Jacques Cousteau, Philippe Cousteau, is on Discovery World HD looking for manta rays in the Indian Ocean. That ocean covers 13% of the world’s surface and has 5,000 species, many of them unique to it.

The marine biologists locate manta rays by finding a cleaning station, where cleaner wrasse and butterfly fish hang about waiting for fish to come to them to have parasites and food particles cleaned away.

About 22% of the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean are under threat. Crown of thorns starfish, which eat coral animals, have multiplied a hundredfold as their predators are fished out.

There is one population of wild dugong left in the Indian Ocean. They are shy herbivorous mammals that have been both hunted and accidentally tangled in nets.

Is the bluefin tuna doomed?

Probably. It’s one of the top ocean predators, but it spawns into the water and depends on numbers so that some of its eggs survive mass scavenging by smaller fish. The numbers are dropping while government-subsidizedm, overpopulated fishing industries continue to overfish. And there’s no agreement in sight: “Bad start as European Union rejects fishing quota.”

Europe’s Mediterranean fishing nations have rejected measures to protect the endangered bluefin tuna proposed last month by the European Union fishing chief Maria Damanaki, EU officials said on Thursday…

The total bluefin quota for 2010 was set at 13,500 tonnes and Damanaki said last month that to give the giant fish a real chance of recovery, the 2011 quota should be set at around 6,000 tonnes at the Paris meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

The 10-day ICCAT talks started on Wednesday.

Ms. Damanaki accepted that the need to protect the livelihoods of fishermen would probably dictate a higher quota than 6,000 tonnes. But in a meeting late on Wednesday, EU ambassadors in Brussels, led by France, rebuffed Ms. Damanaki’s proposal and wrote their own, which barely mentions quota reductions.

There’s an appeal and a petition here: “Save the bluefin tuna.” We really can’t afford to destroy the ocean’s ecology. The Japan Sea is seeing ‘blooms’ of giant jellyfish where there aren’t enough fish left to keep their numbers in balance. The jellyfish, in turn, polish off smaller fish and keep the fish stocks from recovering. It’s not a pretty picture!

We need to set a quota and enforce it to stop illegal fishing. The real problem is that no one owns the fish, so everyone can go after them.


Radiolarian exoskeleton in Differential Interference Contrast (DIC)

This article shows a kind of microscopic sea life called radiolarians under different kinds of magnification:

* Darkfield Illumination
* Differential Interference Contrast (DIC)
* Phase Contrast Illumination
* Rheinberg Illumination
* Hoffman Modulation Contrast

But first, here’s the introduction:

Radiolarians are single-celled protistan marine organisms that distinguish themselves with their unique and intricately detailed glass-like exoskeletons. During their life cycle, radiolarians absorb silicon compounds from their aquatic environment and secrete well-defined geometric networks that comprise a skeleton commonly known as a test. The radiolarian tests are produced in a wide variety of patterns, but most consist of an organized array of spines and holes (pores) that regulate a network of pseudopods useful in gathering food.

The article concludes

The radiolarian exoskeleton, featured in the photomicrographs presented in this section, is encased in the cellular cytoplasm with the bulk of the test being set in the ectoplasm. This anatomical feature ensures that the amorphous silica skeletal structure is never in direct contact with seawater, reducing the risk of dissolution in a hostile aqueous saline environment. When radiolarians die, their tests usually sink and accumulate on the ocean floor in biogenic sediments. Contributing to the pelagic oozes that date back millions of years, the ancient radiolaria skeletons are often useful in geological dating experiments, climatological studies, and oil exploration. The process of biogenic sedimentation, which began with primitive members of the radiolaria during the Early Cambrian period, continues today.

What is limestone made of?

The coccolithophore Gephyrocapsa oceanica under scanning electron microscope

I’ve been looking at a lot of local limestone and sandstone lately. Sandstone is made of sand, often in tiny annual layers. But limestone is made of the remains of tiny sea creatures. To be specific, much of it is formed by coccolithophores, which are distinguished by an ‘armour’ of  tiny plates of calcium carbonate. Trillions of their skeletons formed the basis of some of the world’s most interesting landscapes.

They still dump 1.5 billion kg of calcite into the ocean every year.

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