Within the deepest creases, out of sight,
You glide along the ocean’s murky floor;
Surviving in the darkest realms of night,
Your body writhes above a sticky maw.
Then when we drag your carcasses ashore,
We prod and poke to see what we might find;
And like the sailors who did come before,
We read the maps your body leaves behind.
So whilst we cannot see we are no longer blind.
Snailfish are found at many different depths in marine waters around the world. In deep water, they cluster together in groups and feed on tiny crustaceans and shrimp using suction from their mouths to swallow their prey. Their heads are large (compared to their size) with small eyes, and their bodies are generally slender, tapering to very small tails.
The Pseudoliparis swireisp. nov. is named after a sailor, Herbert Swire, an officer on board the HMS Challenger expedition which first discovered the Mariana Trench in 1875, the deepest part of the world’s oceans where this new species was found during research trips in 2014 and 2017. Because of its depth and location, the Mariana Trench has not been fully explored, and in general, the snailfish family is poorly studied. In particular little is known about how snailfish can live under intense water pressure; the pressure at 7,000 – 8,000 m (where the specimens were collected) is similar to what you would experience if an elephant stood on your thumb. At these depths, there are lots of invertebrates, and the snailfish appear to be the top predator. However, there is still a large part of this harsh environment to explore, with many more species of fish no doubt waiting to be discovered, revealing more of the ocean’s secrets in the process.
An audio version of this poem can be heard here.