The Southern Ocean is the body of water that circumnavigates Antarctica and the lower portion of the globe and touches on Australia and the southern tips of Africa and South America. This region of the ocean is relatively pristine and known for its diversity of life and unique species. Unique animals live at all depths, and there are many we still have not discovered.
Hoff crabs live on the floor of the Antarctic Sea. They are actually a hairy-chested version of the yeti crab (Kiwa hirsuta) that use their arms to capture bacteria and minerals escaping from deep water volcanic vents. Hoff crabs got their unofficial name thanks to a resemblance to the actor David Hasselhoff, whose famously hairy chest reminded explorers of the creature. Since the Southern Ocean is a cold-water sea and crabs are more suited to warmer waters, Hoff crabs use the heat produced by volcanic vents as a source of warmth as well as food. They are found in large piles atop one another vying for space at the vent openings.
Sea pig is another name for the sea cucumber (Holothuroid), which abounds in the waters off Antarctica. The sea pig is often caught in nets unintentionally thanks to its abundance both in shallow bays and inlets and on the ocean floor in deep water. The sea pig is so called for its pink color and round, inflated appearance. If you look closely it even seems to have a small tail and set of ears like a pig. Sea pigs filter sand and sediment, ingesting the nutrients and microscopic creatures that live within.
The icefish (Chaenocephalus aceratus) is completely clear so that its inner working are visible to the naked eye. Transparent skin and a lack of red blood cells is what makes for its clear appearance. Perhaps the most unique feature of the icefish is its use of antifreeze to prevent from freezing solid in the cold waters of the Southern Ocean. Instead of thick blood filled with hemoglobin, icefish have thinner blood that is distributed more efficiently and quickly thus providing the necessary nutrients and oxygen without freezing.
There are a number of uniquely equipped starfish that call the Southern Ocean home. The feather star (crinoid) is adorned with long tendrils that appear to be feathers which catch passing plankton for food. The basket star (Gorganocephalus) also has a unique wandering array of appendages that reach out in all directions both to anchor it and reach out to food sources floating in the water above. Stars are excellent indicators of water temperature and quality, and as such they are closely watched by scientists for changes in the Southern Ocean.
- The Daily Green: 12 Bizarre Sea Creatures
- Ocean Ridge Master Association: 4 Antarctic Sea Animals That Are Just Plain Strange
- Scientific American: How the Antarctic Icefish Lost Its Red Blood Cells But Survived Anyway
- CBS News: Weird Sea Creatures Discovered in Antarctic
- National Geographic News: Photo in the News: "Yeti Crab" Discovered in Deep Pacific
- National Geographic News: Giant, Unknown Animals Found off Antarctica
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.