A preliminary expedition on the U.K.’s state of the art polar research vessel, soon to be named Boaty McBoatface, has discovered a creature deep in the Southern Ocean that rings Antarctica. Scientists have yet to identify this animal and describe it’s appearance like a “deep-sea daisy” that is over 5 feet in diameter! Physiological similarities lead some scientists to suggest that this creature is an Antarctic relative of the sunflower seastar (below), which can reach over 3 feet in diameter and is found in the Pacific from Alaska to Southern California. Differences between the two animals could be explained by common polar adaptations, like gigantism. For more information on polar adaptations visit Antarctic Animals – Marine Life and Adaptations.
If this creature is indeed a relative of the sunflower seastar, scientists can expect it to feed on a similar food source: clams, snails, sea urchins, and other invertebrates. Antarctic species of mollusks (shellfish), small crustaceans, and echinoderms (sea urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers) are abundant in the Southern Ocean. It is also possible that, like other deep ocean dwellers, this “deep-sea daisy” feeds on the sunken remains of other marine animals.
Much still needs to be discovered about this critter, but scientists are eager to learn of any unique adaptations it may have developed to survive in the Southern Ocean, as well as learning if this new species could be used as an indicator of climate change. The expedition’s leader spoke about the Antarctic benthic community saying:
These animals are potentially very good indicators of environmental change as many occur in the shallows, which are changing fast, but also in deeper water which will warm much less quickly. We can now begin to get a better understanding of how the ecosystem will adapt to change.
Perhaps this new creature could lead to important discoveries about the Antarctic benthic community and join other species in providing an insight into climate change.
UPDATE: Of course, since this was posted April 1st (Happy April Fools!), the new creature is actually a species of soft coral photographed on a research cruise of the BAS Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross. In 2008, researchers onboard the James Clark Ross explored the diversity of the Amundsen Sea and Amundsen Sea Shelf. Dr. Katrin Linse, lead author, stated “at least 10% of all the species collected are new to science” including an armored sea cucumber and a new species of 8-armed starfish. For more information visit the BAS website, and to see some of the images click through the BAS photo archives starting here. Enjoy!