WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Scientists who conducted the most comprehensive survey to date of New Zealand's Antarctic waters were surprised by the size of some specimens found, including jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles and 2-foot-wide starfish.
A 2,000-mile journey through the Ross Sea that ended Thursday has also potentially turned up several new species, including as many as eight new mollusks.
It's "exciting when you come across a new species," said Chris Jones, a fisheries scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "All the fish people go nuts about that — but you have to take it with a grain of salt."
The finds must still be reviewed by experts to determine if they are in fact new, said Stu Hanchet, a fisheries scientist at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
But beyond the discovery of new species, scientists said the survey, the most comprehensive to date in the Ross Sea, turned up other surprises.
Hanchet singled out the discovery of "fields" of sea lilies, a plantlike animal, stretching for hundreds of yards across the ocean floor.
"Some of these big meadows of sea lilies I don't think anybody has seen before," Hanchet said.
Previously, only small-scale scientific samplings had been staged in the Ross Sea.
The survey was part of the International Polar Year program involving 23 countries in 11 voyages to survey marine life and habitats around Antarctica. The program hopes to set benchmarks for determining the effects of global warming on Antarctica, researchers said.
Large sea spiders, jellyfish with 12-foot tentacles, huge sea snails and starfish the size of big food platters were found during a 50-day voyage, marine scientist Don Robertson said.
Cold temperatures, a small number of predators, high levels of oxygen in the sea water and even longevity could explain the size of some specimens, said Robertson, a scientist with NIWA.