Researchers exploring an ancient underwater volcano off the Pacific coast of Canada have discovered that it is still active — and “covered” with thousands of giant eggs.
Before the expedition, the team thought the volcano was extinct and the waters around it were frozen. However, they found the underwater mountain — 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) above the sea floor — spouting warm, coral-covered waters into the deep sea. The hot, mineral-rich liquid keeps the surrounding waters warm, providing ideal conditions for some marine creatures to survive in the deep sea. The researchers were most surprised to see white skates from the Pacific Ocean (Bathiraja spinocissima) weaving in and out of the fronds and laying eggs on top, about a mile (1.5 km) below the surface.
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“It’s a really special place on top of a really special place,” Cherise Du PreezFisheries and Oceans Canada’s deep-sea marine biologist and principal investigator on the expedition told Live Science in an email. “the only Past results of white ski incubation in the Pacific She was in the Galapagos Islands and I think she was on the order of a dozen eggs or two.”
The recently found ski nursery is many times larger than that, Du Preez said. “I would estimate that the seamount peak, which was covered in white, was—I don’t know—100,000? A million?” Du Preez added that these eggs were large, about 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) across.
They said the researchers were also the first to record footage of a Pacific white skate laying eggs Expedition video.
Pacific white skates are little-known sea creatures related to sharks and rays. They are among the deepest species of ice skates, inhabiting depths between 2,600 and 9,500 feet (800 to 2,900 meters) off the west coast of North and Central America, according to IUCN Red List. Adult females, which can be up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) long, Du Preez said, lay oblong eggs, known as “mermaid pouches” because they look like little pouches.
In 2018, researchers discovered many of these ravioli-shaped eggs near hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos Islands, suggesting that mother skates took advantage of the volcanic warmth to incubate their eggs. Du Preez said the new observations point to the same conclusion.
“It takes four years for young people to develop,” she explained. “The warm water probably speeds up the egg-bearing period, leading to more successful juveniles. The shallow top of the seamount is almost a coral garden and a safe nursery for juveniles to grow before they descend into the depths—it’s a win-win.”
The researchers will continue to monitor the egg-covered seamount, which is not currently protected and may be under threat from fishing activities. Du Preez said the discovery shows how important vent habitats are as nurseries and for the overall health of the oceans.
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