Finding crabs on the bottom of the ocean isn't that big a deal. But here in Antarctica, crabs haven't lived in coastal waters for the past 40 million years. Until now, it's been too cold.
Bottom-dwelling creatures like mussels, brittle stars and sea urchins have not developed any defenses. They have thinner shells, for example. For the same reason, filter feeders, like clams and worms, burrow underground in most regions. The lack of predators has led to a thick canopy of sorts, much like a submarine jungle comprised of flowery feather stars, tube worms and squirming sea spiders.
During an interview on board the Oden just after it docked at the main U.S. base in Antarctica, Thatje described how the crabs are moving closer to an ecosystem with no defenses.
"The Antarctic shelf communities are quite unique," Thatje said. "This is the result of tens of millions of years of evolution in isolation."
To explore this underwater world, Thatje and his team of U.S. and Swedish scientists towed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that scanned the seafloor with a digital camera. Along the way, they encountered thick packs of ice, rough seas and lots of feeding whales.