From an unmanned submersible, protected by a casing of stainless steel almost an inch thick and a window made from super strong sapphire crystal, we can observe the life that thrives at our planet’s most extreme and darkest depths. Thanks to technology and sheer material strength, we can temporarily trespass into this high pressure environment. But in stark contrast to the robust deep sea imaging equipment we rely on, the creatures our camera records look extremely fragile.
Four-and-a-half miles beneath our research vessel, which was floating on the surface of the Pacific Ocean, we captured footage of several previously undiscovered species of hadal snailfish. With delicate fins and transparent, gelatinous bodies, they are some of this environment’s most enigmatic inhabitants, fish that—at first glance—look like they should be incapable of surviving under such enormous pressures. And yet, it appears they are thriving in this strange world.
In spring, a team of 40 scientists from 17 different nations conducted an expedition to the Atacama Trench, which runs along the west coast of South America. We were there to find a particular snailfish.