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Scientists discover ‘headless chicken monster’ in Southern Ocean

October 23, 2018 8:14AM News Corp Australia Network

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Scientists have captured footage of a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber known as the 'headless chicken monster'. media_cameraScientists have captured footage of a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber known as the 'headless chicken monster'.

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A deep-sea cucumber known as a “headless chicken monster” has been filmed in the Southern Ocean for the first time using camera technology developed by Australian researchers.

The creature was filmed off East Antarctica and it is the first time the species has been seen in the area.

“Some of the footage* we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking*, including species we have never seen in this part of the world,” Australian Antarctic Division Program leader Dirk Welsford said.

The creature, En ypniastes eximia, has only been seen before in the Gulf of Mexico and was captured in the Southern Ocean by cameras developed by the Australian Antarctic Division.

It is known as a “headless chicken monster” because that’s what it looks like.

Our oceans are home to an incredible number of amazing sea creatures

“The housing that protects the camera and electronics is designed to attach to toothfish longlines* in the Southern Ocean, so it needs to be extremely durable*,” Dr Welsford said.

“We needed something that could be thrown from the side of a boat and would continue operating reliably* under extreme pressure in the pitch black for long periods of time.”

Dr Dirk Welsford is a scientist who studies the Antarctic, as part of the Australian Antarctic Division. He was in Hobart explaining how the camera filmed the “headless chicken monster” Picture: Jack Paynter
media_cameraDr Dirk Welsford is a scientist who studies the Antarctic, as part of the Australian Antarctic Division. He was in Hobart explaining how the camera filmed the “headless chicken monster” Picture: Jack Paynter

The information collected from the cameras is being presented at the annual Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meeting starting in Hobart yesterday.

Australia’s commissioner for the meeting will push for a new East Antarctic Marine Protected Area.

“The Southern Ocean is home to an incredible abundance* and variety of marine life, including commercially sought-after* species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for future generations,” commissioner Gillian Slocum said.

Gillian Slocum, Commissioner of Australia’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, in Hobart. Picture: Jack Paynter
media_cameraGillian Slocum, Commissioner of Australia’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, in Hobart. Picture: Jack Paynter

The 10-day Antarctic conservation meeting will also include proposals on how to respond to climate change.

Sea cucumber (the big orange thing in the middle) and cuttlefish (behind) on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Picture: AquaQuest Port Douglas
media_cameraSea cucumber (the big orange thing in the middle) and cuttlefish (behind) on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland. Picture: AquaQuest Port Douglas

WHAT IS A SEA CUCUMBER?

Not a vegetable or a fruit!

A marine animal with a tough, leathery skin in a group of creatures called echinoderms, with starfish and sea urchins.

Tube feet that look like tentacles around their mouths gather algae, tiny aquatic animals and waste into its mouth.

Fish and humans eat sea cucumbers. They are a delicacy — a special-occasion food — in Asian cuisines*.

These are sea cucumbers that look like the familiar cucumber fruit or vegetable. They are at Phillip Island Nature Park in Victoria.
media_cameraThese are sea cucumbers that look like the familiar cucumber fruit or vegetable. They are at Phillip Island Nature Park in Victoria.

Home is the ocean floor. Some species live in shallow water, others in deep water. There are about 1250 known species found all around the world.

Defence against attack is pretty spectacular! Some discharge sticky threads to capture enemies. Others can mutilate* their own bodies. And others shoot their organs out of their anus*. The good news is they quickly grow their organs again.

A sea pig sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers of all sorts are important to process the silt or sediment at the bottom of the ocean, much like earthworms do on land. Many sea cucumber species are threatened by fishing. Picture: supplied
media_cameraA sea pig sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers of all sorts are important to process the silt or sediment at the bottom of the ocean, much like earthworms do on land. Many sea cucumber species are threatened by fishing. Picture: supplied

Source: National Geographic

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GLOSSARY

footage: film

breathtaking: so amazing it takes your breath away!

toothfish longlines: long fishing lines to catch Patagonian toothfish for commercial fishing

durable: lasts well

reliably: dependably, can be relied on

abundance: plenty

sought after: people seek it out

cuisines: food styles of a particular culture

mutilate: seriously injure

anus: bottom hole where waste comes out

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

QUICK QUIZ

1. Which ocean was the sea cucumber found in?

2. What is En ypniastes eximia?

3. Where else in the world has this creature been seen?

4. The camera used to film the creature has to be very strong to withstand pressure. Why?

5. Why is the film of this creature being shown at the meeting?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Tell me more

The article contains some fascinating information about sea cucumbers and their group called echinoderms — what interesting creatures! What else can you find out about them through your own research? Write down or draw pictures to record 5 or more additional facts about echinoderms. Then compare your facts with those of a classmate. Together agree on what you think is the most amazing or fascinating thing about them.

Extension: Find pictures of some other species of sea cucumbers. Give them new funny names (like “headless chicken monster”) based on their appearance and unique features that will help you remember what each one looks like.

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science, Personal and Social Capability

VCOP ACTIVITY

With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you name this creature if you found it? Why?

Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No one-word answers.

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