Using specially built ultra-deep submergence technology designed by the University of Aberdeenâ€™s Oceanlab, the team deployed a camera system and a large trap to depths ranging from 4 to over 6 miles.
At depths of approximately 4.4 miles, the team was hoping to recover specimens of deep sea snailfish that the scientists had photographed before, but have not been captured since the early 1950s.
“The moment the traps came on deck we were elated at the sight of the snailfish as we have been after these fish for years,” voyage leader Alan Jamieson from the University of Aberdeenâ€™s Oceanlab was quoted as saying in a press release.
“However, seconds later, I stopped and thought â€˜what on earth is that?â€™ whilst catching a glimpse of an amphipod far bigger than I ever thought possible. Itâ€™s a bit like finding a foot-long cockroach,” Jamieson said.
â€˜Supergiantâ€™ is a term coined by American scientists in the early 1980s after a few large specimens were caught off the Hawaiian Islands.
Despite a few infrequent findings in the 1970s, the supergiant amphipod has not been reported since and has faded into the realms of rare and mysterious deep sea creatures, until now.
These new sightings and specimens captured represent both the biggest whole specimen of supergiant ever caught and the deepest point these have ever been found. Seven specimens were caught in the trap and up to nine were photographed gathering around the camera system.
(Toyo Fujii, Alan Jamieson, and Ashley Rowden with the supergiant amphipods.)
Ashley Rowden, from NIWA in Wellington, said, “It just goes to show that the more you look, the more you find. For such a large and conspicuous animal to go unnoticed for so long is just testament to how little we know about life in New Zealandâ€™s most deep and unique habitat.”
“The surprising thing is that we have already been to this deep trench twice and never come across these animals before,” Jamieson added.
“In fact a few days after the discovery we deployed all the equipment again on the same site and we didnâ€™t photograph or capture a single supergiant; they were there for a day and gone the next.”