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February 23, 2008

Giant Sea Spiders

Giant sea spiders: enough to give the screaming abdabs to arachnophobes the globe around. A recent scientific research vessel was trawling the deep waters around Antarctica and found, along with armoured shrimp, giant sea spiders that reach up to a foot across.

Such a giant sea spider would make somthing of a show if it came up the plughole into your bath tub, don't you think? Fortunately they live in cold water an I always have hot baths....but still.

Scientists studying Antarctic waters have filmed and captured giant sea creatures, like sea spiders the size of dinner plates and jellyfish with 6m tentacles.

A fleet of three Antarctic marine research ships returned to Australia this week, ending a summer expedition to the Southern Ocean where they carried out a census of life in the icy ocean and on its floor, more than 1000m below the surface.

"Gigantism is common in Antarctic waters - we have collected huge worms, giant crustaceans and sea spiders the size of dinner plates," Australian scientist Martin Riddle, voyage leader on the research ship Aurora Australis, said.

6 metre tentacles? No cheese before bed tonight I think, that won't help my dreams. The giant sea spiders were bad enough....

The giant sea spiders, along with giant worms and crustaceans, are among up to 1500 species that Australian, Japanese and French scientists have brought back from the icy waters off Antarctica as part of a two-year census of marine life. With an Australian ship scouring the ocean floor and the French and Japanese searching for life in the mid and upper reaches, the scientists conducted a count of species known as the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census.

They found more than just those giant sea spiders too:

Giant sea spiders, huge worms, fields of glass-like filter feeders and `flabbergasting' fish were among the ocean life recovered from the floor of the Southern Ocean by researchers aboard the Aurora Australis, voyage leader Martin Riddle said.

So stunning was the wealth of discoveries, the ship's recent voyage south as part of the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census would go down as one of the great marine science voyages of all time, Dr Riddle said.

Using trawls and underwater video photography, scientists had ventured as far as 2km below the surface.

"We were amazed at what we found," Dr Riddle said. "We went there with certain expectations, but those expectations were far exceeded."

"We saw giant worms, giant crustaceans, giant sea spiders, glass-like tunicates, enormously diverse areas in some places.

Yup, much more than just the giant sea spiders:

Among the bizarre-looking creatures the scientists spotted were tunicates, plankton-eating animals that resemble slender glass structures up to a yard tall "standing in fields like poppies," Riddle said.

"Gigantism is very common in Antarctic waters -- we have collected huge worms, giant crustaceans and sea spiders the size of dinner plates," Riddle added.

You can see the video of the giant sea spiders here.

Giant sea spiders and other species are among thousands of creatures—a quarter of them previously unknown—found in the icy depths of the Southern Ocean.

February 23, 2008 in Science | Permalink

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