Deep-Sea Mission Nets a Fish With No Face

A black-and-white image of a newly discovered faceless fish.
A black-and-white image of a newly discovered faceless fish.
Günther (1887) // Public Domain

Deep-sea scientists see some pretty weird things, but nothing comes close to the spooky, blank-headed fish recently hauled up from the abyss. Researchers say the faceless cusk-eel—a kind of bony fish—lives so far into the black depths that luxuries like eyes are superfluous.

The Australian research vessel Investigator has been plumbing the abyss for a month, scooping up all manner of strange beasts, many of which have never been seen before. The mission is pulling out all the stops in its sampling, using sleds, grabbers, cameras, and the largest fishing net ever deployed in the deep sea.

“Abyssal animals have been around for at least 40 million years but until recently only a handful of samples has been collected from Australia’s abyss,” chief scientist Tim O’Hara said in a blog post for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). It’s “a world of jelly and fangs, with miniature monsters gliding up and down waiting for prey.”

The 40-member research team aboard Investigator had, therefore, peered into more than their share of weird faces. But a fish with no face was new to them.

“Everyone was amazed,” one scientist wrote on the Blogging the Abyss website. “We fishos thought we’d hit the jackpot.”

The team flew into research mode, rifling through old research in search of more information. Eel expert John Pogonoski of CSIRO was the first to discover the disappointing, but still fascinating truth: The faceless fish isn’t new at all, but an important part of history.

The first specimens of the faceless cusk-eel (now identified as Typhlonus nasus) were hauled up in 1874 by naturalists aboard the HMS Challenger, the first-ever global deep-sea mission. The Challenger mission was extraordinary in its success, especially given the primitive nature of its instruments, which included miles and miles of piano wire.

“So, it’s not a new species,” admitted the blogging scientist, “but it’s still an incredibly exciting find. It does have eyes—which are apparently visible well beneath the skin in smaller specimens. I doubt they’d be of much use though.”

Fossilized Fat Shows 550-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature May Have Been the World's First Animal

Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

A bizarre sea creature whose fossils look like a cross between a leaf and a fingerprint may be Earth's oldest known animal, dating back 558 million years.

As New Scientist reports, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) made a fortunate find in a remote region of Russia: a Dickinsonia fossil with fat molecules still attached. These odd, oval-shaped creatures were soft-bodied, had rib structures running down their sides, and grew about 4.5 feet long. They were as “strange as life on another planet,” researchers wrote in the abstract of a new paper published in the journal Science.

Another variety of fossil
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

Although Dickinsonia fossils were first discovered in South Australia in 1946, researchers lacked the organic matter needed to classify this creature. "Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution, or the earliest animals on Earth,” senior author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at ANU, said in a statement.

With the discovery of cholesterol molecules—which are found in almost all animals, but not in other organisms like bacteria and amoebas—scientists can say that Dickinsonia were animals. The creatures swam the seas during the Ediacaran Period, 635 million to 542 million years ago. More complex organisms like mollusks, worms, and sponges didn’t emerge until 20 million years later.

The fossil with fat molecules was found on cliffs near the White Sea in an area of northwest Russia that was so remote that researchers had to take a helicopter to get there. Collecting the samples was a death-defying feat, too.

“I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone, and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after,” lead author Ilya Bobrovskiy of ANU said. Considering that this find could change our understanding of Earth’s earliest life forms, it seems the risk was worth it.

[h/t New Scientist]

Cats Take Turns Napping With the 75-Year-Old Star Volunteer at This Animal Shelter


The star volunteer at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Wisconsin doesn't have to do much to make a cat's day. According to Huffington Post, Terry Lauerman, a 75-year-old from Green Bay, visits his local shelter every day to take a cat nap with the residents.

Safe Haven is a cage-free, no-kill animal shelter that gives a home to special needs cats at risk of being put down. When Lauerman first showed up at Safe Haven earlier this year, he didn't talk to the shelter employees about becoming a volunteer—instead, he waltzed in and started grooming the cats with a brush he had brought himself. After this continued for a while, the shelter decided to make his volunteer status official.

Lauerman has since settled into a daily routine. After brushing the cats, he tends to fall asleep with them, and after an hour or so he wakes up and finds a different cat to nod off with. Safe Haven recently shared his story on their Facebook page: "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry," the post reads. "He brushes all of the cats, and can tell you about all of their likes and dislikes. He also accidentally falls asleep most days. We don't mind—Cats need this!"

The post has since been liked by over 68,000 people and shared more than 18,000 times. Safe Haven wrote in the comments, "When Terry comes in today, I'm going to have to tell him that he's famous. I can almost guarantee he'll just laugh and say "Oh, really?"...shake his head...and then go back to brushing cats." Lauerman is also encouraging fans of the viral post to show their appreciation by donating to the shelter, which ends up with more medical bills than many shelters that don't have cats with disabilities. You can contribute cash here or make a donation through the shelter's Amazon wish list.

[h/t Huffington Post]