A juvenile snailfish officially took the Guinness World Record this week for the world’s deepest fish.
The youngster lived 27,349 feet below the surface in the world’s second-deepest oceanic trench.
"We have spent over 15 years researching these deep snailfish; there is so much more to them than simply the depth, but the maximum depth they can survive is truly astonishing," said chief scientist for the expedition and University of Western Australia professor Alan Jamieson in a statement.
The fish lives more than 5 miles below the surface in near-freezing temperatures. It thrives under 833 atmospheres, which is more than 12,000 pounds per square inch. That is the weight of a bus on your head, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Nuclear submarines can only dive to 980 feet before being crushed.
The fish lives in total darkness. Sunlight can only penetrate a little over a half-mile, according to NOAA. Up to 99% of light is filtered out by the first 490 feet of water.
Scientists call this depth of the ocean, the hadal zone, named for Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.
Jamieson’s two-month expedition last summer, studied deep water fish populations in the Izu-Ogasawara Trench south of Japan. Ocean trenches are the deepest parts of the ocean. Old ocean crust from one tectonic plate is pushed beneath another. Mountain building, volcanoes and earthquakes create a unique habitat for a diverse number of species, most of which humans don’t know about, according to Woods Hole.
The trip was part of a 10-year study into the deepest fish populations in the world.
Jamieson, along with other Australian and Japanese scientists, lowered baited cameras and recorded video of the ghostly fish that has never been seen before.
The same week, the team caught a different species of snailfish in a trap at about 26,319 feet and brought them to the surface. These 2 fish are the only fish to ever have been collected below 26,247 feet.
Before this expedition, scientists had only seen a snailfish down to 25,300 feet.
Why study hadal fish?
Hadal fish, like the snailfish, must adapt to live in extreme conditions. Researchers at Woods Hole suspect that understanding the adaptations could lead to biomedical and biological advances.
"Studying the way that hadal organisms have adapted to life in their harsh surroundings could help advance understanding in many different areas of research, from diabetes treatments to improved laundry detergents," explained the Woods Hole website. "Researchers have already discovered microbes inhabiting deep-sea hydrothermal vents that hold potential as new sources of antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs."
Jamieson said that images of the fish paled in significance to verifying his fish forecast.
"The real take-home message for me, is not necessarily that they are living at 8,336 (meters) but rather we have enough information on this environment to have predicted that these trenches would be where the deepest fish would be, in fact, until this expedition, no one had ever seen nor collected a single fish from this entire trench," Jamieson said.
He and fellow scientists are already planning the next expedition.