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Researchers aboard the Aurora Australis, an Australian vessel, have discovered a trove of strange creatures on the sea floor near East Antarctica.
"Some of the video footage we have collected is really stunning — it's amazing to be able to navigate undersea mountains and valleys and actually see what the animals look like in their undisturbed state," said Aurora Australis voyage leader Dr Martin Riddle. "In some places every inch of the sea floor is covered in life. In other places we can see they pass by. Gigantism is very common in Antarctic waters — we have collected huge worms, giant crustaceans and sea spiders the size of dinner plates."
The stalked structures looking like glass tulips are actually animals known as tunicates. They are early colonizers of areas recently disturbed by ice-berg scouring. They filter food particles from the water by pumping it through an internal mesh structure and the stalk is supported by hydrostatic pressure created by their pump. Feather stars (crinoids), sea cucumbers (holothurians) and another species of tunicate have used the stalked tunicates to gain height to give them an advantage in intercepting food particles from the water before it reaches the sea-bed. The sediment surface is covered with a mass of tubes, probably of small polycheate worms. 220m on the continental shelf. Image courtesy of the Census of Antarctic Marine Life.