The prawn-like crustaceans usually measure 2 to 3 centimetres long but a joint UK-New Zealand expedition managed to pull up specimens coming to 28cm, with a mammoth 34cm amphipod also captured on film.
The creepy crawlies were nabbed in depths of up to 9,990 metres by a huge metal trap attached with a camera – technology devised by the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab. The astounding find was inadvertently made as the expedition attempted to find deep sea snailfish in the Kermadec Trent, north of New Zealand – specimens that have not been caught for over 60 years.
“The moment the traps came on deck we were elated at the sight of the snailfish as we have been after these fish for years,” said Dr Alan Jamieson, from the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab. “However, seconds later, I stopped and thought ‘what on earth is that?’ whilst catching a glimpse of an amphipod far bigger than I ever thought possible. It’s a bit like finding a foot-long cockroach.
“The surprising thing is that we have already been to this deep trench twice and never come across these animals before,” he added. “In fact a few days after the discovery we deployed all the equipment again on the same site and we didn’t photograph or capture a single supergiant; they were there for a day and gone the next.”
Mystery surrounds the supergiant amphipod after initial sightings in the 1970’s began to dry up.
“It just goes to show that the more you look, the more you find,” said New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research’s Dr Ashley Rowden. “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.”
The seven supergiants that were caught are being kept in Wellington, New Zealand until the team’s expedition ends.