Atacama Trench: Three New Snailfish Species Discovered Lurking 5 Miles Below the Ocean Surface

Researchers probing the deep, dark waters of the Pacific's Atacama Trench have discovered three "amazing" species of snailfish swimming almost 5 miles below the ocean surface.

Temporarily nicknamed "the pink, the blue and the purple Atacama Snailfish," the weird little creatures have adapted to their extreme environment. But they don't look like the toothy, spiny deep-sea fish you might imagine. These cute snailfish have small, smooth translucent bodies.

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A deep-sea fish swims at the bottom of the Pacific's Atacama Trench. Newcastle University

"My interest is mainly the fish, so I am biased in thinking the new snailfish are amazing," scientist Thomas Linley of Britain's Newcastle University told Newsweek. "Three species, with clear differences in their shapes indicating different lifestyles, really was a surprise."

The team dropped landers with baited cameras and traps into the waters of the Pacific. Once they reached the seabed, the landers captured footage and even a specimen of one of the fish. Deployed 27 times over the course the expedition, the landers probed regions of the trench from 1.5 miles to nearly 5 miles deep. This vast fissure cuts through the ocean floor near Peru and Chile.

Researchers gathered more than 100 hours of footage and almost 11,500 photos of the mysterious region. The team knew the trench had the right conditions to support deep-sea snailfish, Linley said, but they were still astounded by the results. "When we set out, we wanted to get a better look at that species. The trench more than exceeded our expectations in delivering three."

The team also captured extremely rare footage of weird, spider-like isopods called munnopsids. These long-limbed creatures swim in highly unusual ways. "They flip from swimming backwards and upside down to walking mode, [which is] fascinating," Linley said.

The research, he added, offers a glimpse into the lives of some of the creatures living deep in the trench. "But this is just one part of a complex system—these animals are part of a food web, [and] there are processes within the trench and overlying water which allow these animals to survive here."

Future research, as part of the European Research Council's HADES project, should help unravel more details about this mysterious deep-sea region, Linley said. The snailfish discovery will be featured at the Challenger Conference 2018 at Newcastle University.