Washington, Dec 2 : Scientists have discovered a new species of coral thriving in veritable forests on the peaks of undersea mountains off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, which are shaped like a fan.
According to a report in Discovery News, the large candelabra or fan-like "bamboo corals" have been spotted by marine scientists growing to heights in excess of a meter, and are so abundant that they create oases for numerous other deep sea creatures.
"They look really, really big when you're underwater," said marine biologist Peter Etnoyer of Texas A and M University.
Etnoyer and his colleagues discovered the corals at depths of 700 to 1,000 meters in the famous Alvin submersible.
Bits and pieces of the mysterious bamboo corals had been seen for years, brought up in the nets of trawlers, according to Etnoyer.
But, none of these fragments hinted at the size, beauty and importance of the corals and for other life at such depths.
"Bamboo corals have remarkable scientific utility," said coral researcher Tom Shirley of Texas A and M's Harte Research Institute. "Their growth rings are imprinted with carbon isotopes that allow us to unravel their growth history," he added.
Deep sea fans like the bamboo coral are animals that feed on suspended organic material that floats by. Unlike better-known hard corals, deep sea corals live in pitch-black, cold waters.
The new deep-sea species also has very unusual and impressive skirt of long tentacles on its trunk that billow in the current.
The deep-sea corals were also clearly providing cover and solid foothold for fish, crabs and other animals, essentially a shelter, in the otherwise mucky, largely deserted expanses of deep ocean floor.
"They provide a lot of shelter, food and breeding grounds," said deep sea coral researcher Di Tracey of New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. hat makes them important for fisheries, since deep-sea fish can't thrive without places to breed.
"We have a lot of deep sea corals in the world that haven't been described. We've known about them since the 18th century, but they've been sort of out of sight, out of mind," Tracey said.
"Now, with the help of technological advances like the Alvin and remotely controlled submersible vehicles, these unusual creatures can finally be given the scientific attention they deserve," she added.