This week’s interesting science news story comes deep from the sea. A 14 year old Ukrainian boy with an interest in marine science was looking at a live streaming video from an undersea camera, and saw a frightful sight – a snout showed up and slurped up the fish he was watching! The video is below:
The camera is part of the NEPTUNE network – a series of scientific instruments on the ocean floor off the coast of British Columbia in Canada. The “monster” that slurped up the fish was a northern elephant seal. Scientists were quite shocked to see a seal at that depth – the camera is located nearly 900 m below the surface! They also were surprised to see how it ate the hagfish, which secretes so much slime that most predators cannot eat them. To the elephant seal, it was like eating spaghetti.
When I was a masters student at the University of Victoria several years ago, the NEPTUNE project was just beginning to be deployed. The project began as an early warning system for major megathrust earthquakes, as the ocean bottom seismometers would detect the earthquake before it reached the mainland. The broadband network was quickly expanded to include instruments to measure ocean chemistry, biological activity, hydrothermal venting, the effects of gravity on the ocean, tsunamis, and methane hydrate production. The video camera isn’t just for spotting the unusual feeding habits of the elephant seal – it is also being used to study the behaviour of deep sea fish!