'Superprawn' snared off New Zealand

2012-02-03 12:11
Wellington - Scientists have captured a "supergiant" crustacean in waters 7km deep off New Zealand, measuring 10 times the normal size of related species.

The "supergiant amphipod", which resembles a monster prawn, was found during an expedition to the Kermadec Trench north of New Zealand by scientists from the University of Aberdeen and Wellington's NIWA marine research institute.

Amphipods are normally up to 3cm long and the University of Aberdeen's Alan Jamieson said he was stunned to find the 28cm giant when emptying traps on his research vessel's deck.

"I stopped and thought 'what on earth is that?' whilst catching a glimpse of an amphipod far bigger than I ever thought possible," he said.

"It's a bit like finding a foot-long cockroach."

Another amphipod, which was filmed by the expedition but not captured, was an estimated 34cm long.

"It just goes to show that the more you look, the more you find," NIWA principal scientist Ashley Rowden said.

"For such a large and conspicuous animal to go unnoticed for so long is just testament to how little we know about life in New Zealand's most deep and unique habitat."

Supergiant amphipods have been found only once before, in the 1980s. But that was off Hawaii, about 7 000km to the north, and NIWA said it was yet to determine if the latest catch was a new species.

Scientists said they did not know why the deep-sea creatures evolved to such a huge size.

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