The cousins of the world's ugliest fish have been found 4km down in an underwater abyss off Australia

Lizard fish. Image: Museums Victoria and Marine National Facility

Scientists are gathering in Hobart this week to examine 42,000 deep-sea creatures, including the cousin of Mr Blobby, voted World’s Ugliest Fish, collected from Australia’s eastern abyss.

The collection was gathered last year during the Sampling the Abyss voyage on research vessel Investigator from depths of up to 4800 metres.

Over 100 different fish species were collected, some of which are possibly new to science, and will go under the microscope at the CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection (ANFC).

Some of the discoveries include blob fishes, cousins of Mr Blobby who was voted the World’s Ugliest Fish in 2013, bioluminescent cookie-cutter sharks with razor sharp serrated teeth, a haul of lizard fish, and tripod fish which sit high off the sea floor on long fins waiting for food to drift within reach.

“The abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering half the world’s oceans and one third of Australia’s territory, but it remains the most unexplored environment on Earth,” says Alastair Graham, Manager of the Australian National Fish Collection.

“The survey collected some very rare and unusual species, and represents one of the deepest collections of fishes from Australian waters.”

Blob fish. Image: Museums Victoria and Marine National Facility

The voyage led to a number of findings, including the rediscovery of the “faceless” fish, a deep-sea fish with no-visible eyes and a mouth on the underside of its head.

Researchers spent many hours processing the samples on board, separating the different species, photographing specimens, preserving or freezing some of the catch for later processing, and extracting muscle samples for DNA analysis.

Museums Victoria ichthyologist Dr Martin Gomon says the voyage was the first systematic attempt to examine life at abyssal depths anywhere along Australia’s vast coast line.

“The discoveries provide us with a glimpse into how our marine fauna fits into the interconnected abyssal environment worldwide and for the scientists, adds another piece to the puzzle of what affects evolution in the deep sea,” he says.

“For those of us aboard it was a real buzz to see the amazing fishes that provide this information as they emerged from the nets and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to take a closer look at them in Hobart this week.”

The abyss voyage was an international collaboration, led by Museums Victoria, to deliver the first survey of the abyssal waters off Australia’s east coast. In all, the voyage collected a massive 42,747 fish and invertebrate specimens.

Faceless fish. Image: Asher Flatt and Marine National Facility

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