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Nurseries in the deep sea

MOSS LANDING, California--Exploring a deep-sea ridge off Northern California, scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have discovered a unique undersea nursery, where groups of fish and octopus brood their eggs, like chickens on their nests. This is the first time that marine biologists have directly observed any deep-sea fish brooding its eggs. It is also the first time that two different types of mobile deep-sea animals have been observed brooding together in the same area. Although the scientists do not know exactly why the animals prefer this one area, they believe that the nursery represents a new type of biological "hot spot" (an area of intense biological activity).

MBARI scientist Jeff Drazen presented these observations last week at the Deep Sea Biology Symposium in Coos Bay, Oregon. His research is also featured in the current issue of Biological Bulletin, which shows photographs of the brooding fish and octopus on its cover.

The undersea nursery was discovered and documented using MBARI's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Tiburon. Using video tapes from Tiburon dives, Drazen and colleagues found that each summer, blob sculpin (Psychrolutes phrictus) and deep-sea octopus (Graneledone sp.) gather together at the crest of the Gorda Escarpment, off Northern California.

"The sculpin nests look like large splotches of purple strewn across the surfaces of boulders," says Drazen. "The parent fish is usually resting on the seafloor near or on top of the eggs. When I first saw this in the video, I was surprised because no one had ever documented such behavior in a deep-sea fish before." Blob sculpin are typically about 60 cm (2 feet) long and shaped like large, flabby tadpoles. Drazen estimates that some sculpin nests may contain up to 100,000 eggs. The nursery area lies near the crest of an undersea rise, almost a mile below the ocean surface.

MBARI geologists first encountered these nursery areas in Au
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Contact: Debbie Meyer
debbie@mbari.org
831-775-1807
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
3-Sep-2003


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