An Antarctic undersea vent that spews superheated water into the icy sea is now known to be home to more animals than other, similar sea vents. Scientists have taken their first look into the frosty depths and harvested images of Yeti crabs and new species of anemones, barnacles and a snail. In 2010, scientists used a remote-operated submersible vehicle (ROV) to explore an area of the ocean near Antarctica, between South America and the frozen continent.
A team led by an Oxford University zoology professor published their findings Jan. 4 in the journal PLoS Biology.
One of the most amazing finds is the sheer volume of crabs who sat piled upon each other near the vents.
"To see these animals in such huge densities was just amazing," Alex Rogers, the team leader told Christian Science Monitor's LiveScience blog.
"We were absolutely stunned to see the animal communities, because they were so different from the hydrothermal vents seen elsewhere," he said. "It was almost like a sight from another planet."
The Yeti crabs have little hairs all over their chest, and they are almost completely without pigment. They look truly otherworldly, and it was a surprise to see them in the 32 degree water because they typically live in warmer climes. While the crabs lay piled around the sides of the thermal vent, seven legged sea stars patrolled the crab perimeter waiting to pick them off. There was even a ghostly white octopus spotted nearby that may have been attracted by the ROV's lights.
It has only been recently scientists have been able to do any extensive research in the Antarctic waters because of the obvious physical obstacles. After doing some preliminary surveys in the 90's, it was thought there could be thermal vent action in the chilly waters, but it wasn't until recetnly that remote cameras were sent down followed by the unmanned submersible.