Coffinfish

    This mysterious little deep sea coffinfish with its bluish eyes and red feet belongs to the anglerfish group. It attracts unsuspecting prey using a fishing rod tipped with a fluffy bait on top of its head. When threatened coffinfishes often inflate themselves with water to make themselves look more menacing. Pictured is the deepest coffinfish collected in Australia, a potentially new species.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Faceless fish

    With no eyes and a Mona Lisa smile, the “faceless” fish had the crew completely baffled when it was brought up from 4 km below the surface. The team were already conjuring up possible new scientific names when John Pogonoski, of the CSIRO’s Australian National Fish Collection, found it while flicking through the pages of the scientific literature aboard. Turns out the species was first collected in the northern Coral Sea more than 140 years ago during the Voyage of HMS Challenger, the world’s first round the world oceanographic expedition.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Cookiecutter Shark

    This is a nasty little bioluminescent shark with its neatly arranged serrated teeth inhabits the oceanic ‘twilight zone’ in depths to 1000m. It preys on big fishes, whales, dolphins and the occasional unfortunate swimmer, latching onto them before gouging out cookie-sized chunks of flesh. This is the first time it has been found in Australian waters.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Giant anemone-sucking sea spiders

    These alien lifeforms are not actually spiders at all but one of the oldest arthropods to grace planet earth. Simplicity is their motto, being little more than a tube within a tube. Many of sea spiders have legs that glow in the dark.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Blobfish

    Mr Blobby, the social media phenomenon that was collected in the Tasman Sea in 2003 was voted the World’s Ugliest Fish in 2013. Like his cousin, this blob fish collected from a depth of 2.5km off New South Wales, has soft watery flesh and is an ambush predator that lies very still on the bottom waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Red spiny crab

    This bright red spiny crab sports an armour of spikes tailored to protect it from the dangers of the deep. These are not actually true crabs but related more to hermit crabs, although this hermit has traded in its shell for gnarly spikes.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Tripod fish

    These iconic abyssal fishes, often called spiderfishes, prop high off the seafloor on their stilt-like fins. Like all fishes in the spiderfish family, they have very reduced eyes. To feed, they face into the current, extending their elongated pectoral fins forward ‘feeling’ their prey items drifting by.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Flesh-eating crustaceans

    Crustaceans such as this amphipod are deep sea scavengers and will eat almost anything nutritious they come across, including the decaying remains of a dead whale, drifted down from the world above.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Zombie worm

    Osedax Zombie worms are commonly found in the decaying remains of whales on the ocean floor, burrowing into their bones to reach the sustenance within. With no functioning mouths, guts or anuses, they have bacteria that digest these grisly remains for them.

    Photo Credit: Maggie Georgieva

    Carnivorous sponge

    These sponges differ from others of their species in that they hook crustaceans and other miniture creatures in wicked, velcro like spines, while they are slowly digested by the sponge. Death by sponge, a lovely way to go.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Glass Sponge

    These incredible glass sponges have a skeleton made of a lattice of silica fillaments, some of which can be up to a metre long! They feed by sifting bacteria and other single celled organisms from the water gently passing over their delicate glass housing.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Sea pigs

    A herd of sea pigs in the Freycinet Marine Reserve off Tasmania. These cute little pink pigs are the ocean’s vacuum cleaners, using their tube like feet to move across the abyssal mud, hoovering up microorganisms. They are the only type of sea cucumber with ‘feet’ and can gather in great numbers where food is abundant in the abyssal realm.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Dumbo octopus

    These octopus flap their ear-like fins to fly, just like the Disney character of the same name, except this animal flaps its ears to glide gracefully through the deep dark abyss.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Corallimorph

    These belong to the same group as anemones, jelly fish, hard corals and other tentacled creatures of the sea. This is a type of coral, however, lacks the exoskeleton of its more familiar relatives.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Jumbo Prawn

    A deep sea prawn that swims in the dark depths of the Australian abyss. Many animals in the abyss are bright red as red light cannot penetrate past about 10m down, so in the depths of the ocean this animal appears is invisible in the gloom.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Peanut Worms

    Sipuncula—The peanut worm, not to be confused with the penis worm (despite appearances), is a deep sea worm resembling a… I’ll leave it up to your imagination. When threatened they can contract their long head inwards and more resemble a peanut. They can reproduce both sexually and asexually.

    Photo Credit: Asher Flatt

    Pancake urchin

    These round disks of concentrated urchin are not actually flat in their natural habitat. Their buoyant bodies are held up by water pressure in the deep ocean, but when brought to the surface they quickly deflate.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

    Brittle Star

    This beautiful brittle star is found right across the globe from Siberia, in the north, to Antarctica, in the south, yet we know almost nothing about them.

    Photo Credit: Rob Zugaro

In pictures: creatures of Australia’s deep sea abyss

By Australian Geographic | June 16, 2017

In 2017, scientists from Museums Victoria, the CSIRO and NESP Marine Biodiversity Hub returned from a 31-day, deep sea voyage from Launceston to Brisbane, having uncovered a collection of weird and frightful creatures from 4000 m below the surface. More than one third of the creatures found during the research expedition were previously unknown to science.