2 December 2008

Young naturalist discovers new species on epic voyage of discovery

You'd be forgiven for thinking the title of this post refers to Charles Darwin, this being a blog about HMS Beagle and all, but the 'young naturalist' is in this case Peter Etnoyer, a doctoral fellow at Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and one of three bloggers at Deep Sea News.

And 'the voyage of discovery' began not on the ocean's surface aboard HMS Beagle in 1831 but 1200 metres (3/4 of a mile) under the ocean's surface in the Alvin submersible in 2002.

And the 'new species discovered' is not a rhea, an extinct giant ground sloth or a mockingbird, but the huge, hauntingly elegant deep sea coral pictured at right, featured on msnbc and in an evocative YouTube video.

But the best coverage of all comes straight from the 'young naturalist' himself, who describes his discovery in detail on Deep Sea News.

And just in case you didn't catch my use of the adjective 'huge' above, listen up: this thing is 132 cm tall. If you were to stand on the seabed next to it (not that you could without your chest imploding, it being so deep) it'd come up to about your shoulder.

How can something so big have escaped our notice, you might wonder? Well the truth is that we have identified probably only 1-10% of all the multicellular species out there, and a large number of those species yet to be discovered are in the deep sea. As Peter says, 'the fact that this bamboo coral is relatively common, but new to science, tells you how little we know about the deep sea.'

The era of discovery isn't over, it's only just begun ...that is, if we can stop the bottom trawlers from indiscriminately mowing them down before we get there.

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