SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - Scientists investigating the icy waters of Antarctica said Tuesday they have collected mysterious creatures including giant sea spiders and huge worms in the murky depths from up to 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) beneath the surface. Many of the creatures have never been seen before.
Some of the animals far under the sea grow to unusually large sizes, a phenomenon called gigantism that scientists still do not fully understand.
"Gigantism is very common in Antarctic waters," Martin Riddle, the Australian Antarctic Division scientist who led the expedition, said in a statement. "We have collected huge worms, giant crustaceans and sea spiders the size of dinner plates."
The specimens were being sent to universities and museums around the world for identification.
"Not all of the creatures... could be identified and it is very likely that some new species will be recorded," said Graham Hosie, head of the project.
The expedition is part of an ambitious international effort to map life forms in the Antarctic Ocean, and to study the impact of forces such as climate change.
Three ships - Aurora Australis from Australia, France's L'Astrolabe and Japan's Umitaka Maru - returned recently from two months in the region as part of the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census.
"In some places every inch of the sea floor is covered in life," Riddle said. "In other places we can see deep scars and gouges where icebergs scour the sea floor as they pass by."
Among the bizarre-looking creatures the scientists spotted were tunicates, plankton-eating animals that resemble slender glass structures up to a meter (yard) tall "standing in fields like poppies," Riddle said. Other animals were equally baffling. "They were all bottom dwellers," Riddle told reporters. "They evolved in different ways to live on the sea bed in the dark."
Scientists are planning a follow-up expedition in 10 to 15 years to examine the effects of climate changes.