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Creatures Sharing Deep-Sea Nursery

September 13, 2003|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Marine biologists have discovered an unusual underwater nursery nearly a mile under the ocean on the crest of the Gorda Escarpment off Northern California.

Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have found two different types of deep-sea creatures -- fish and octopuses -- brooding their eggs like chickens in a henhouse.

The discovery marks not only the first time biologists have seen such deep-sea aquatic creatures brooding their eggs, but also the first time two different species have been observed brooding in the same area.

The team believes the nursery represents a new type of biological "hot spot" -- an area of intense biological activity -- and are now trying to determine why the animals favor the site.

The brooding ground was discovered in August 2000 by Jeff Drazen and his colleagues while they were performing geological surveys with the remotely operated vehicle Tiburon. When they returned in 2001, they took along biologists to confirm the find. Drazen then organized a third dive in July 2002 to count the animals and their eggs.

The sites were located near "cold seeps," where hydrocarbon-rich fluids seep out of the sea floor.

The principal inhabitants are fish known as blob sculpins (Psychrolutes phrictus), which look like large, flabby tadpoles and grow to a length of almost 2 feet, and deep-sea octopuses. Drazen speculates that some sculpin nests may contain as many as 100,000 eggs.

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