The unusual species of sea cucumber, Enypniastes eximia, was captured on camera by Australian researchers using new underwater equipment.
It has previously only ever been filmed in the Gulf of Mexico, at a depth of 2,500m. Ranging in size from 11cm to 25cm, the creature has webbed swimming structures and tentacles which allow it to move to new feeding grounds and avoid predators.
“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world,” said Dr Dirk Welsford, programme leader at the Australian Antarctic Division.
The team is using the camera system, which was developed for commercial longline fishing, to gather information for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
“The housing that protects the camera and electronics is designed to attach to toothfish longlines in the Southern Ocean, so it needs to be extremely durable,” Dr Welsford said.
“We needed something that could be thrown from the side of a boat, and would continue operating reliably under extreme pressure in the pitch black for long periods of time.”
“Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of seafloor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided.”
Australia is pushing for the creation of a new marine-protected area in the east Antarctic, said Gillian Slocum, Australia’s commissioner at the CCAMLR.
“The Southern Ocean is home to an incredible abundance and variety of marine life, including commercially sought-after species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for future generations,” she added.