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Scientists Spot Deep-Sea Wonders Off Australia's Coast

A two-week-long seafaring mission off western Australia's coast has helped illuminate a deep and dark underwater abyss the size of the Grand Canyon.
Image: Coral
A remotely operated vehicle spotted brightly colored coral during exploration of the Perth Trench off the coast of western Australia.Schmidt Ocean Initiative / UWA
/ Source: Live Science

A two-week-long seafaring mission off the coast of western Australia has helped illuminate a deep and dark underwater abyss the size of the Grand Canyon.

During the trip to Perth Canyon, researchers encountered countless deep-sea organisms, including Venus flytrap anemones and golden coral. They even found a lost piece of equipment — an autonomous ocean glider that had gone missing two years earlier.

The scientists, from the University of Western Australia's Oceans Institute, began their mission on March 1 on the Falkor, a research vessel owned by an American nonprofit organization. Once aboard, they sailed about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Fremantle, a city on the western Australian coast. They then used a remotely operated vehicle to explore the underwater canyon, which extends from the continental shelf down more than 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to the ocean floor. [Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of Sea Creatures]

"We have discovered near-pristine, sheer-drop cliffs of over 600 meters [1,968 feet] and mapped structures that are rarely found in other parts of the ocean," Malcolm McCulloch, the project's leader and a professor of Earth and the environment at the University of Western Australia, said in a statement.

The canyon probably formed more than 100 million years ago, the researchers said. They say an ancient river cut the canyon during rifting that separated western Australia from India. Nowadays, the submerged canyon is a hot spot for marine life, attracting blue whales and other sea life in search of a tasty meal.

Researchers knew little about the canyon's structure and the creatures that inhabited it until this expedition. Next up, researchers will use the Falkor to test underwater robotic vehicles at Scott Reef, off the coast of northwestern Australia.

— Laura Geggel, LiveScience

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter. Follow Live Science on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.