Cock-eyed squid, athletic sea cucumbers uncovered by S'pore and Indonesian researchers off Java

Today Online 2 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE — Despite some choppy waters and initial sea-sickness, researchers from Singapore and Indonesia on a 14-day expedition off western and southern Java have unearthed an array of deep-sea creatures including giant sea cucumbers, peculiar scallops and a new category of sea stars.

The fourth day of the expedition was a bonanza for the team, which trawled to depths of almost 1,600m in waters between the Sunda Strait and Indian Ocean, it reported in an update posted on the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum’s website on Monday (April 2).

The 30 researchers and support crew had set off on March 23 from Jakarta on the Indonesian research vessel Baruna Jaya VIII. The South Java Deep Sea Biodiversity Expedition 2018 is the first such expedition that Singapore and Indonesia are organising together. It is also the first time the researchers are taking advantage of Wi-Fi on the vessel to post updates on social media almost daily.

“The collections so far have uncovered a large number of scientifically important species, including many new records for Indonesia and the region,” said Professor Peter Ng, Singapore’s chief scientist for the expedition.

Added Prof Ng, a crab expert: “It has been singularly exciting. I am particularly happy of course with my crabs and my cool ‘Darth Vader’ isopod!”

The Giant Sea isopod is a crustacean and the team has found at least two species, one of which was almost 30cm long. They are important deep-sea scavengers and have, thus far, not been officially recorded from Indonesia.

Indonesian expedition leader Dr Dwi Listyo Rahayu, a senior research scientist at the Research Centre for Oceanography of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the discoveries have been “overwhelming and exciting”. She looked forward to finding more animals including deep-water hermit crabs, her research specialty.

Other creatures hauled up include a swimming sea cucumber, a cock-eyed squid and sea daisies (a category of sea stars).

The latter, measuring about 1cm in diameter and belonging to the Xyloplacidae family, is potentially new to science and one of the team’s most exciting finds so far. The scientists said the sea daisies live on sunken wood and were previously only known from New Zealand, Bahamas and the North Pacific.

And unlike the common perception of sea cucumbers as sluggish bottom-dwelling animals, the scientists said those in the deep sea are actually very athletic. One of those that they found was 10 to 15cm long and swims from one place to another using huge papillae (protrusions) on the back of its mouth.

The cock-eyed squid, about 8cm long, has one eye much larger than the other. It apparently swims with the larger eye looking downwards for food while the other peers upwards, presumably on the lookout for predators.

Sampling in unexplored areas has not been easy, the scientists said. Maps are not always reliable and the terrain can be rugged, causing some trawls and cores (to retrieve sediment samples) to fail completely.

But many of the scientists on board have never handled deep-sea animals before and were extremely excited each time a catch came up.

The team, which is expected to return to land on Thursday (April 5), said it will share more details of its discoveries soon.

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