A new species of deep-sea fish discovered in the Atacama Trench

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A new little blue snail is changing our understanding of the world’s deepest fish.

In 2018, an international team of scientists studied the Atacama Trench, a vast trench that runs along the west coast of South America like a deep underwater valley that mirrors the Andes. The team, including scientists from Newcastle University, deployed free-fall landers to sample the rare deep-sea creatures around cameras and baited traps. Two Newcastle University landing systems recorded three types of hadal snails and one was not like the others.

The small blue fish, seen from about 6,000 to 7,600 m depth, does not look like other hadal snails. With large eyes and a striking color, it resembles other snail species that live in much shallower waters. The team used a 3D X-ray technique called microcomputer tomography (micro-CT) and DNA barcoding to see where the new species fits into the snail family.

To the team’s surprise, the new species appears to be a distinct colonizer of the Atacama Trench. The new species belongs to the genus Paraliparis. Species of this genus are particularly abundant in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica and are rarely found deeper than 2,000 m. Significantly, this is the first time this genus has been found living in the hadal zone.

The team named the new species Paraliparis selti, which means blue in the Kunza language of the indigenous peoples of the Atacama Desert. The description is published in the Marine Biodiversity magazine.

The study’s lead author, Dr Thom Linley, a visiting scientist at the University of Newcastle, said: “I find this family of fish absolutely fascinating. They are not at all what we would expect from a deep sea fish and I like to show people that fish are actually quite cute.

“For me, to bring a camera to where these animals live, it is made of stainless steel a few centimeters thick and sapphire crystal. It then films these delicate and beautiful animals perfectly adapted to this extreme environment. With a force engineering, we can only awkwardly visit these animals for a short time.

“We’ve wondered for some time what makes this type of fish so good at deep-dwelling. Perhaps it was a series of lucky accidents, a fluke, that happened down a line. The discovery of this new species tells us that it is larger than Lightning Strikes Twice and there is something special about this family.

“Paraliparis selti offers a fantastic opportunity to explore what allows fish to live so deeply. If we only had one lineage to study, we could never be sure which traits were part of that lineage and which are the deep sea secret sauce.”

The new species may have evolved from species adapted to the cold Southern Ocean. This little blue fish opens up new questions about the relationship between cold temperature and adaptation to high pressure and gives new understanding of how and when life got deep.

Video: https://youtu.be/txSOP_9yLCI

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Material provided by Newcastle University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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