Photos capture rare glimpse of life three miles deep

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This is an octopus - scientists call it a Dumbo octopus. It's about as big as a dinner plate.

Picture of octopus captured by scientists
Picture of octopus captured by scientists Credit: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE

So why am I excited by this photograph?

Well, because this is one of the first snaps to come from a survey of the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, 350 miles off Lands End. And the octopus is living 3 miles deep.

But that's not all. The photograph was taken by a submarine called Autosub6000 built by the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.

The Autosub6000
The Autosub6000 Credit: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE

It's just got back from the most detailed ever survey of the seafloor of the deep.

The scientists have half a million photographs that overlap so they can stitch them together to make the first-ever "road map" of the floor of an abyss - 12 miles long, 4 miles wide. Astonishing.

The Autosub6000
The Autosub6000 Credit: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE

Autosub6000 has cameras facing straight down to produce pictures of squids and sea cucumbers and other animals without backbones.

Spiky Sea Cucumber
Spiky Sea Cucumber Credit: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE
Enypniastes Spanish Dancer
Enypniastes Spanish Dancer Credit: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE

It also has a forward facing camera to look for fish - mostly eels - that are scared off by the approaching sub before the camera passes over them.

The scientists are also making an acoustic survey of the abyssal floor and taking samples. All of which can show how life at these astonishing depths manages to survive and might be affected by environmental changes like global warming.

Grenadier
Grenadier Credit: NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE

They've been studying the Porcupine Abyssal Plain since the 1970s - look here if you want to know more.