Study discovers 60 new fish in Gulf of Mexico

(from Houma Today \ Dan Boudreaux \ Mar. 24, 2017)

A study that sailed out of Houma has delved the dark depths of the Gulf of Mexico and discovered a 60 new, weird and sometimes scary species of fish that live deep beneath the ocean surface.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, or GoMRI, paid for the study along with numerous other projects in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill. BP even paid $500 million that was put toward projects to study the deep waters of the Gulf and the effects of oil on the water, plants and animals.

“About four months or so after the spill was capped, I got call from (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) who’s in charge of damage assessment,” said Tracey Sutton, an oceanographer at Nova Southeastern University who worked on the study. “The problem that NOAA had was that they had no data on what lived deep in the Gulf, so they had no means to assess the damage.”

The study, called the DEEP END, took three voyages out of Houma on the Megsknsi. Each voyage took three months and used specialized nets to take around 16,000 samples of fish from below 3,280 feet. Sutton said this was the largest of its type ever made.

“It’s highly unusual to sample that deep. (3,280 feet) is kind of the line in the sand where the ocean turns completely dark,” Sutton said. “It’s basically black 24 hours a day. It’s always night.”

The study discovered 60 species of fish that had never before been discovered in the Gulf. Most of them were species that had already been discovered but had not been known to live in the Gulf. Still, 12 were completely new species that had never before been seen.

“We’re progressing. We haven’t officially named most of them,” Sutton said. “It takes a bit of time to formally describe a species. Ideally, you get specimens of the closest related thing to yours and compare them and then write an identification guide that people can use to say what they are.”

Most notable among the new discoveries is a completely new species of anglerfish that looks more alien than fish.

Sutton said these discoveries are important and more investment is needed for further studies because of how little we know about the deep waters of our planet and how fast industry is moving to do work down there.

“We’re now able to extract resources from very deep water. Now almost any part of the ocean can be exploited,” Sutton said. “The problem is we don’t have any baseline data for what lives down there. Industry is going faster than science. All of our new species show that we’re extracting resources from environments we haven’t studied yet. It’s kind of hard to determine the damage done to an environment when you didn’t know what it was like beforehand.”

Read the full article here

GoMRI “In the news” is a reposting of articles about GoMRI-funded research (published by various news outlets).