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Want to make rare deep-sea discoveries? Study science

Batfish

From space to the bottom of the ocean floor, we love that careers in science can take you anywhere and everywhere

It’s an exciting time to be in science. STEM pros working in this field are making important and groundbreaking discoveries all the time, and here’s one epic example. Scientists led by the Museums Victoria Research Institute have just mapped the seafloor in Australia’s Cocos (Keeling) Islands Marine Park in detail for the first time!

So what did they find? Oh, just massive flat-topped ancient sea-mountains, surrounded by volcanic cones, snarly ridges, and canyons formed from avalanches of sand. Amazing, right? But that’s not all. Their research vessel (RV) Investigator (operated by CSIRO), has also been surveying previously unknown deep-sea life in the Indian Ocean Territories. Over 35 days (and 11,000km), they’ve found diverse fish life hovering around the summits of the sea-mountains and have taken samples from as deep as five kilometres below the surface.

Here are some of their incredible deep-sea discoveries…

  • A previously unknown blind eel covered in loose, transparent, gelatinous skin
  • Deep-sea batfishes that amble over the seafloor on their armlike fins
  • The Tribute Spiderfish, with incredibly long lower fins with thickened tips, which allow it to prop high up off the bottom as if it was on stilts
  • The bizarre Pelican Eel with a tiny head at the front of its enormous jaws, and an expandable stomach so that it can engulf and swallow large food items
  • The voracious Sloane’s Viperfish, with huge fang-like teeth that are visible even when the mouth is closed
  • Pancake sea urchins, which have a delicate skeleton that flattens like a pancake when it is out of the water
  • Highfin lizard fish – they belong to a group of fishes that are simultaneous hermaphrodites; they have an ovotestis with functional male and female reproductive tissue at the same time

Love science? Read the latest issue of our Careers with STEM: Science magazine


Bring on the data

Nelson Kuna and Dr Tim O'Hara
Nelson Kuna, a hydrographic surveyor from CSIRO, and Museums Victoria Research Institute’s Dr Tim O’Hara, Chief Scientist of the expedition. Image: Robert French via Museums Victoria

Detailed three-dimensional images of the massive mountain underneath the Cocos (Keeling) Islands have also been produced for the first time.

“We’ve used the full ocean depth mapping capabilities of RV Investigator to completely survey around the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, from coastal depths less than 100m all the way down to the abyss some 4800m below,” says Nelson Kuna, a hydrographic surveyor on board from CSIRO.

“The data set now covers a substantial area of the new marine park and shows the Cocos (Keeling) Islands as the twin peaks of a massive seamount that rises nearly 5000m from the surrounding seafloor.

“It’s truly an honour to see, for the first time, these stunning features revealed from the deep.”

(Oh, and if the scientists on board weren’t busy enough making cool discoveries, they also found time to share their findings with school students across Australia by live-streaming into the classroom!)


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So why is this so important?

Head of Division at Parks Australia, Jason Mundy, says this voyage increases our understanding of the unique and diverse habitats and species of these remote waters.

“Scientific research and data underpin management of all Australian Marine Parks,” says Jason. “It is fantastic that this voyage is exploring the extraordinary biodiversity and unique habitats of these the new Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands marine parks, which cover more than 744,000 square kilometres.”

Under the sea STEM careers

Marine biologist
Meet Brittany Williams, a marine biologist playing music to oysters! Check out her STEM story here.

Did you know that 80% of the ocean remains unexplored? If you want to head off on voyages, help make important deep-sea discoveries or work with exciting new data, you should consider becoming a…

  • Deep-sea biologist
  • Hydrographic surveyor
  • Marine archaeologist
  • Marine biologist
  • Marine data scientist
  • Research scientist
  • Oceanographer

STEM + animals

Has all this talk of blind eels, sea urchins and spiderfish got you thinking about working with animals? There are so many great ways to combine STEM with this interest!

Janice Vaz
Janice Vaz is a wildlife biologist who researches the behaviours of big cats. Read her STEM story here.

You could be an…

  • Animal conservationist
  • Animal physiotherapist
  • Aquarist
  • Ecologist
  • Entomologist

Or maybe even a…

  • Marine rescue officer
  • Vet
  • Wildlife biologist
  • Zookeeper
  • Zoologist

We have heaps more info on these kinds of careers over on our STEM + animals hub. You can also read through these amazing CVs of STEM professionals working with animals to get insider deets on your future career path!

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