A ghostly bluish-white snailfish swims into view of a 4K camera. Researchers aboard the vessel Kairei were looking at the deepest fish ever captured on camera at 8,178 meters below the surface. That’s 26,830 feet or just over 5 miles. Where do you find water that deep? Where else. The Mariana Trench.
Researchers loaded a hadal-lander with mackerel and lowered it to depths of 7,498 meters and 8,178 meters to attract the life that lies in the ocean’s deep darkness. You can see the two different locations in the image below.
At the 8,178-meter depth, it took 17 hours and 37 minutes for the record breaking snailfish to show itself.
The first half of the video shows snailfish and amphipods at a depth of 7,498 meters. The second half shows the record setting snailfish at 8,178 meters.
Only one snailfish is seen at the record depth. It reappeared again, but the researchers never saw more than one at this location.
“Deep-sea organisms and their ecosystems have attracted great scientific interest;” reads the press release. “However, extremely high pressure in deep-sea trenches has prevented sampling as well as video recordings. The research team will continue investigations of hadal organisms, attempting to collect samples for analyses to better understand the population density of the organisms and the food chain at water depths below 8,000 m.”
How deep can a fish go?
The snailfish seen above is pushing the limit. Fish at these extreme depths produce a substance called an osmolyte. Without it, fish would succumb to the incredible pressure found thousands of meters below the ocean surface. Once you get past 8,200 meters, researchers believe a fish can no longer produce this substance.
While the snailfish is approaching its maximum possible depth, it’s nowhere near the deepest point in the Mariana Trench. That belongs to a slot-shaped valley called Challenger Deep. The snailfish above would need to dive another 9,000+ feet to reach the deepest known point at 36,070 feet.
Filmmaker James Cameron made headlines five years ago when he used a specially designed sub to reach a depth of 35,787 feet. Here’s a short clip that’ll get your palms nice and sweaty.
More video footage of the snailfish will be presented at a special exhibition at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo on August 28, 2017.
Image credits: JAMSTEC
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