A robot being used to study ocean currents has stumbled on a reverse world in the Antarctic where fish swim upside down, sea anemones hang down instead of grow up, and strange turtle-like creatures float just under the ice.
Scientists lowered a 1.4 metre cylinder equipped with two cameras into a hole bored through the 270-metre-thick shelf of ice over the Ross Sea.
What they saw stunned them: a whole new ecosystem with thousands of a new species of anemones growing from the ice down into the water.
“The pictures blew my mind, it was really an amazing find,” said Marymegan Daly, a specialist in sea anemones at Ohio State University
The discovery was made by the US-based National Science Foundation in a mission supported by the New Zealand Foundation for Research.
Other sea anemones have been found in Antarctica but these are the first reported to live in ice. They also live upside down, hanging from the ice, compared to other sea anemones that live on or in the seafloor.
How the sea anemones create and maintain burrows in the bottom of the ice shelf while that surface is actively melting is mystery.
The scientists also saw fish swimming upside down, the ice shelf serving as the floor of their world, the anemones their forest.
There was also a bizarre little creature the scientist dubbed the ‘eggroll’, a neutrally-buoyant cylinder which seemed to swim using appendages at both ends of its body.
The eggroll was seen bumping along the field of sea anemones under the ice and hanging on to them at times.
Researchers hope to return to Antarctica as early as 2015 to continue studying the sea anemones and other organisms beneath the ice shelf.
Watch a video of the new sea anemones.
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