A host of record-breaking discoveries and revelations that stretch the extreme frontiers of marine knowledge were reported by the just-released Census of Marine Life 2006. They include life adapted to brutal conditions around 407ºC fluids spewing from a seafloor vent (the hottest ever discovered), a mighty microbe 1 cm in diameter, mysterious 1.8 kg (4 lb) lobsters off the Madagascar coast and a US school of fish the size of Manhattan Island.

Census seamount researchers found a shrimp, believed extinguished 50 million years ago, alive and well on an underwater peak in the Coral Sea. Neoglyphea neocaledonica was nicknamed “Jurassic shrimp” by its discoverers, who say it rivals the find in South Africa and Indonesia of the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish previously known only through fossils.

Among the many new species discovered by Census participants during 2006, a 1.8 kg (4 lb) rock lobster that Census explorers found off Madagascar may be the largest. Named Palinurus barbarae, the main body spans half a meter.

New and continuously improving techniques also let scientists collect and tag creatures in order to follow their movements. Marine animals themselves are thereby recruited as oceanographers, mapping their travels in the world’s oceans. With their help, the Census is creating new insights into the present and shifting distribution of global marine life.

Census researchers discovered 70 percent of the world’s oceans are shark-free. In an extensive study of the vast abyss below 3,000 m, deep-sea scientists found sharks were almost entirely absent and sought physiological and other explanations. Although many sharks live down to 1,500 m, they fail to colonize deeper, putting them more easily within reach of fisheries and thus endangered status.

Now in its 6th year, the census field work will continue until 2008. The results will be analysed and synthesized in 2009-10 with the goal by 2010 of an initial census describing what lived, now lives, and will live in the oceans.

Further Reading: Census of Marine Life

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