By Elias Marat
The perplexing community of alien-like creatures wasn’t supposed to be there.
Roughly a mile beneath the icy surface of Antarctica in a remote region 160 miles from sunlight, scientists have accidentally discovered an odd set of bizarre creatures, perplexing the researchers who believed the area to be a wasteland wholly devoid of life.
Scientists from the British Antarctic Survey had drilled through 3,000 ft. of ice after melting 20 tons of snow to scoop up seafloor sediment before dropping a camera into the frigid ocean below. However, they soon realized that their tunnel had been dug right above a boulder at the bottom of the ocean, rendering it impossible to gather any sediment.
However, to the shock of the researchers, their camera was able to discover an ecosystem of life that left them confounded with what Wired described as “strange creatures” – two types of filter feeding sea sponges that had never been encountered, dwelling in the – 28.04°F (-2.2°C) water where researchers had believed that no life was possible.
The strange species dwelling in the pitch black waters are living over 200 miles from any known food source, but the creatures still appear to be prospering in spite of the treacherous conditions of the Antarctic sea floor.
The discovery of the strange sea sponges shows just how little we still know about one of the only unexplored regions of the world – and the forms of life that thrive there – where gigantic ice shelves that often rival the size of entire countries have prevented researchers from studying what lies below.
The team’s study laying out the jaw-dropping discovery was published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
“It’s not the most exciting-looking rock—if you don’t know where it is,” British Antarctic Survey biologist Dr. Huw Griffiths told Wired.
Indeed, on close inspection the rock wasn’t only home to the bizarre alien-like sponges – including some shaped like cylinders – but also a film of bacteria known as a microbial mat and a range of stalked organism. Their source of sustenance is what left the scientists befuddled.
Animals that live sessile (or stationary) lives typically rely on a stable supply of food known as “marine snow” – the detritus and remains, sometimes as small as particles, of decomposed sea creatures that sink to the depths of the ocean. Anyone with their own aquarium can imagine what this marine snow looks like.
However, while the source of food might not be apparent, the scientists are guessing that underwater currents are washing in miniscule bits of organic matter from ecosystems that could be as distant as 390 to 930 miles away.
This all still remains a matter of speculation until the next expedition can study this mysterious underwater community much closer. Yet the scientists are eager to find out what these bizarre creatures are and how they ended up in the region in such an inhospitable region in the first place.
Are they all eating the same food source?” Griffiths asked. “Or are some of them kind of getting nutrients from each other? Or are there more mobile animals around somehow providing food for this community?”
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