Nova Southeastern University researcher discovers a new deep-sea fish species

August 05, 2015

FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla. - They are some of the most interesting and unique creatures in the oceans - deep-sea life. Most people can identify a shark or sea turtle or whale, but many are shocked to see what a lanternfish or oarfish looks like. Deep-sea creatures can be down-right scary looking.

Adding to the list of deep-sea creatures, a Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography researcher recently found a never-before seen species from the deep waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Tracey Sutton, Ph.D., is one of NSU's experts on deep-sea life and he teamed up with Theodore Pietsch, Ph.D. from the University of Washington to formally describe this new species of anglerfish.

"As a researcher, the one thing I know is that there's so much more we can learn about our oceans," Dr. Sutton said. "Every time we go out on a deep-sea research excursion there's a good chance we'll see something we've never seen before - the life at these depths is really amazing."

Their findings have been published by The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Copeia, an international journal that publishes original research on fishes, amphibians and reptiles. You can find the full report online.

This new fish, which was found between 1,000-1,500 meters depth, is a new species of Ceratioid anglerfish (Genus Lasiognathus Regan [Lophiiformes: Oneirodidae]). The three females specimens found ranged in size from 30-95 mm in length. Looking at a photo of the fish, one quickly understands how anglerfishes get their common name.

At the ocean depths this fish lives in, there is no sunlight. The only light is that from creatures that produce bioluminescence, which means they generate their own light source. Also, at these depths, the pressure is immense - over one ton (2,200 pounds) per square inch. And the fight for food is never-ending. That's why these fish have developed their unique way of attracting prey - from the appendage at the top of their head, which resembles a fishing pole of sorts. And, like its human counterparts, this fish dangles the appendage until an unsuspecting fish swims up thinking they found a meal, only to quickly learn that they are, in fact, a meal themselves.

"Finding this new species reinforces the notion that our inventory of life in the vast ocean interior is far from complete," said Dr. Sutton. "Every research trip is an adventure and another opportunity to learn about our planet and the varied creatures who call it home."

Dr. Sutton studies the ecology of marine systems, particularly those of the open ocean. As part of those efforts, Dr. Sutton is leading a team of scientists and researchers studying the effects of oil spills on deep-sea marine life. That project recently received a boost, thanks to a recent financial award from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI.) NSU was awarded $8.5 million and is one of 12 organizations selected to receive part of $140 million for continued research in the area of oil spills and how we respond to them.

Along with his work at NSU, Dr. Sutton is also a steering committee member of the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative, a co-Principal Investigator in the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative, an Expert Panelist in the United Nations First Ocean Assessment, an Affiliate Scientist of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and Adjunct Faculty of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association. Sutton is interested in the connections of a variety of trophic levels from the near surface to great depths, with emphasis on the fauna and ecology of the deep-pelagic zone (200 m to 5,000 m). He combines observational, organismal and theoretical approaches to help understand Earth's largest, but least known ecosystems.

As for this new anglerfish, the three female specimens are considered "type specimens" (i.e. they define the species,) and as such, Dr. Sutton said that they will reside in the Ichthyology Collection at the University of Washington, which is home to the world's largest deep-sea anglerfish collection.
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About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): Located in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a dynamic research institution dedicated to providing high-quality educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional degree levels. A private, not-for-profit institution with more than 24,000 students, NSU has campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, while maintaining a presence online globally. For more than 50 years, NSU has been awarding degrees in a wide range of fields, while fostering groundbreaking research and an impactful commitment to community. Classified as a research university with "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is 1 of only 37 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie's Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private, not-for-profit institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education's criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit http://www.nova.edu for more information.

About NSU's Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography: The college provides high-quality undergraduate and graduate (master's and doctoral degrees and certificates) education programs in a broad range of disciplines, including marine sciences, mathematics, biophysics, and chemistry. Researchers carry out innovative basic and applied marine research programs in coral reef biology, ecology, and geology; fish biology, ecology, and conservation; shark and billfish ecology; fisheries science; deep-sea organismal biology and ecology; invertebrate and vertebrate genomics, genetics, molecular ecology, and evolution; microbiology; biodiversity; observation and modeling of large-scale ocean circulation, coastal dynamics, and ocean atmosphere coupling; benthic habitat mapping; biodiversity; histology; and calcification. The college's newest building is the state-of-the-art Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, an 86,000-square-foot structure filled with laboratories; offices; seminar rooms; an auditorium; and indoor and outdoor running sea water facilities. For more information, please visit http://www.cnso.nova.edu

Nova Southeastern University

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