Researchers exploring an ancient underwater volcano off Canada’s Pacific coast have discovered it is still active – and “covered” in thousands of giant eggs.
Before the trip, the team thought the volcano was extinct and the waters around it frigid. However, they found the underwater mountain – which towers 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) above the seabed – hot water spout and encrusted with deep sea corals. The warm, mineral-rich fluid maintains the surrounding waters well, providing ideal conditions for several marine creatures to survive in the deep sea. The Pacific white skate researchers were even more surprised (Bathyraja spinosissima) weaving in and out of the fronds and laying eggs on the summit, nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) below the surface.
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“It’s a very special place on top of a very special place,” Cherisse DuPreez, a deep-sea marine biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and principal investigator on the expedition, told Live Science in an email. “The one a former result of a white skate nursery in the Pacific Ocean it was in the Galapagos and I think it was on the order of a dozen or two.”
Du Preez said the recently acquired skate nursery is much more than that. “I would estimate the top of the sea, which was covered with eggs, which was – I don’t know – 100,000? A million?” These eggs were large, Du Preez added, measuring about 1.5 feet (0.5 m) across.
The researchers were also the first to record footage of a Pacific white skate laying eggs, they said in their Video of the trip.
Pacific white skates are little-known sea creatures related to sharks and rays. They are among the deepest-dwelling skate species, living at depths of 2,600 to 9,500 feet (800 to 2,900 m) off the west coast of North and Central America, according to the IUCN Red List. Adult females, which can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 m) long, lay rectangular eggs, called “mermaid purses” because they look like little bags, Du Preez said.
In 2018, researchers found some of these ravioli-shaped eggs near hydrothermal vents near the Galapágos Islands, suggesting that skate moms took advantage of the volcanic heat to incubate their eggs. The new observations point to the same conclusion, Du Preez said.
“It takes four years for the youth to develop,” she explained. “The warm water is likely to accelerate the gestation period of the eggs, resulting in more juveniles. The shallow summit of the mountain is almost a coral garden and a safe nursery for juveniles to grow before hatching. them to the world – it’s a win. a win.”
The researchers will continue to monitor the egg-covered sea urchin, which is currently unprotected and may be at risk from fishing activities. The discovery shows how important vent habitats are as nurseries and to the overall health of the ocean, Du Preez said.