A deep-sea swimming sea cucumber known as a “headless chicken monster” has been filmed for the first time in Southern Ocean waters off east Antarctica.
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Enypniastes eximia had been observed before only in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of several species previously unseen in the Southern Ocean but now exposed by new underwater cameras developed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD)
The technology was developed for the commercial long-line fishing industry but is being harnessed for purposes of marine conservation, according to the AAD, which is part of Australia’s Department of the Environment & Energy.
Its Program Leader Dr Dirk Welsford says that the cameras are capturing important data for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the international body that manages the Southern Ocean.
“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,” he says. “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.
“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breath-taking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world.
“Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of sea floor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided.”
Dr Welsford says that other CCAMLR nations including the UK were now also using the cameras, which are built by the AAD at its base in Tasmania. “It’s a really simple and practical solution which is directly contributing to improving sustainable fishing practices,” he says.