SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have discovered a new species of deep-sea coral. They located it, along with a nursery area for catsharks and skates, among underwater canyons in the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries off the coast of California.
It was the first thorough exploration of the cold, oxygen-rich waters north of Bodega Head, a small promontory that lies along the California's Sonoma coast just 70 miles north of San Francisco. The research team used mini robotic subs to make multiple dives. The submersibles were outfitted with a variety of instruments, including a camera, enabling scientists to document the marine life as the subs descended 1,000 feet and returned.
The new species of deep-sea coral is a member of the Leptogorgia genus and was located at a depth of about 600 feet. As expected, the scientists found nutrient-rich waters teeming with life, including a catshark nursery featuring not just catsharks but also hundreds of skate eggs scatted among the shelter of sea floor rocks.
"This is a highly unusual nursery because rarely, if ever, are shark nurseries in the same area as skate nurseries," Peter Etnoyer, a deep-sea biologist at NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, said in a press release.
Because deep-sea canyons are difficult to explore, these sorts of expeditions routinely offer up novel finds -- like never before seen coral species. Scientists are still analyzing samples of the newly discovered coral, but they say the species is most likely closely related to gorgonian corals.
"Deep-sea corals and sponges provide valuable refuge for fish and other marine life," Maria Brown, superintendent of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary, said. "Data on these life forms helps determine the extent and ecological importance of deep-sea communities and the threats they face. Effective management of these ecosystems requires science-based information on their condition."