Scientists discover new ecosystems and life in B.C.’s deep sea

Scientists discover new ecosystems and life in B.C.'s deep sea

A recent expedition in B.C.’s ocean deep helped scientists discover new ecosystems and potential species that haven’t been seen before.

The two-week expedition took place off the northern coasts of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, particularly around the Tang ɢwan-ḥačxʷiqak-Tsig̱is marine protected area.

Scientists, as well as Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff, sent cameras and equipment more than three kilometres deep.

Cherisse Du Preez, head of the deep sea ecology program, said this is the deepest dive Fisheries and Oceans Canada has ever done.

The team surveyed about 1,750 kilometres of the ocean, exploring all three of B.C.’s deep-sea biodiversity hotspots, seamounts, vents, and seeps.

Aquatic research technician, Chelsea Stanly, said they also discovered new ecosystems that haven’t been explored before.

“We found some amazing animals, different sedimentation and different properties of rock at the bottom that we weren’t really expecting,” Stanly said.

One of those things was a newly discovered seamount, or underwater mountain.

“We were driving towards something that we were wanting to check out, and all of a sudden, the sea floor started coming up,” Stanly explained. “It was a new seamount that hadn’t been previously shown on our charts.”

She said seamounts must be at least 1,000 metres in height, making this a great discovery.

The expedition team also discovered a few species that were safely extracted and brought back to be studied.

“We’re working with the Royal BC Museum and taxonomists around the world, even as far as the Smithsonian, to try and identify these animals that we have collected that are very likely some of them new to science,” Du Preez told CHEK News.

She added while there were a few other discoveries, the trip also garnered some never before documented footage.

This included footage of a Pacific White Skate, which is similar to a manta ray, giving birth and a deep sea octopus guarding her eggs from predators.

Du Preez said the octopus has been sitting on her eggs for 4.5 years, which is a record-breaking gestation period for any animal.

The footage shows the octopus fighting off king crabs to keep her babies safe until they hatch.

“This is the first time that scientists have documented that whole interaction where this mom, at the end of her life, is guarding her eggs and she’s fighting off the predators that are coming in,” Du Preez added.

The scientific team said the discoveries and footage are all intriguing, but the mission’s main purpose was to learn more about the deep sea.

Heidi Gartner, a deep sea ecology program biologist, said less than five per cent of the ocean has been visually surveyed.

She added learning about these deep ocean ecosystems is important as it can help scientists better understand what’s above water.

“It’s actually really important for mitigating climate change, the biodiversity we have in these unique habitats, lots of different medical elements have been researched from the deep sea that have had ground-breaking impacts in the medical community,” Gartner said.

The information gathered will also be used to help inform marine conservation plans.

Du Preez said you can’t really protect what you don’t know or understand, adding, “We find out what’s down there and be able to share that with the public so we can all value B.C.’s wildlife.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is planning more expeditions in the future.

The next scheduled one is set to depart next month, but it doesn’t plan to dive as deep down as this last expedition.

Mackenzie ReadMackenzie Read

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