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global visits

13 April 2017 - More than 120 SERPENT field visits

The SERPENT Project has made more than 120 field visits to many parts of the world (120 visits at the time of paper submission). To celebrate this we have published a paper reviewing the acheivements of the project since 2003 in Deep Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanogrpahy. We thank our many project partners and collaborators for their support of over the years.

15 March 2017 - Field work west of Shetland

In March we carried out a further visit to the Transoecan Spitsbergen at Hurricane Energy's Halifax well west of Shetland. Poor weather limtied the ROV diving opportunities but we did manage some time-lapse camera deployments and photographic surveys.

Highlight images from the work on the Transocean Spitsbergen in 2016 and 2017 are available on the SERPENT database.

1 January 2017 - Deep-Sea Life of Tanzania

The SERPENT Project has produced a new photographic guide to the deep-sea organisms found during ROV surveys at hydrocarbon drilling sites in the western Indian Ocean off Tanzania. The guide is based on 7 field visits to sites ranging from 1300-2600 m water depth to work with ROV teams on board the Ocean Rig Poseidon and Deep-sea Metro I drilling rigs. Some of the best footage was obtained outside of scientist visits, when ROV team was going about their regular business. Including this amazing footage of the deepest ever record of a scalloped hammerhead.

We used a variety of methods including ROV video survey, baited time-lapse camera deployments and sample collection to gather the data for this project. Further details are available here and many of the observations are recorded in the SERPENT database.

Copies of the guide have been provided to stakeholders in Tanzania.

Bathyphysa siphonophore

1 December 2016 - First sighting of a siphonophore of the genus Bathyphysa from the South Atlantic

Bathyphysa conifera s a deep-water siphonophore that can reach a length of several metres. It is a fragile open-ocean gelatinous organism and rarely encountered worldwide. SERPENT report the first signting of this unusal animal in the South Atlantic in the peer-reviewed journal Marine Biodiversity. This observation from Angola was made in 1325 m water depth by a ROV working for BP.

The video of this observation has been viewed millions of times. It seems this creatures bears a resemblence to the flying spaghetti monster!

29 November 2016 - Tanzania field work

We completed another field visit to Tanzania to explore the deep-sea life in the western Indian Ocean. This time we visited the Noble Globtrotter II at Shell's Kitatange well at 2325 m water depth in Block 1.

The seabed at Kitatange-1 was dominated by soft sediment with occasional areas of hard substratum. The occasional rocks supported sessile invertebrate assemblages such as sponges and soft corals shown on the left. In a nice sequence of ROV video we showed a lizardfish, Bathysaurus sp. swimming an landing on the seabed. This sequence can be seen on our You Tube channel. Some of the better observations are archived in the SERPENT database.

15 November 2016 - Fieldwork west of Shetland

2016 has been a busy year for SERPENT fieldwork west of Shetland. We have been working with Hurricane Energy using ROV survey, time-lapse camera and specimen collection to address a number of questions about biodiversity around drilling platforms. We have made three visits to the Transocean Spitsbergen to carry out field studies to based around three main themes: 1) Recovery from disturbance 2 years after drilling, 2) the role of habitat heterogeneity in supporting species diversity in anthropogenically disturbed habitat and 3) colonisation of artificial substratum by marine fauna.

Highlights include a rare observation of a Common Skate, Dipturus sp., which, despite their name, are critically endangered.


18 July 2016 - Deep-sea fish association with a black coral

After observing a fish hiding under a black coral on several occations over the course of a week during a SERPENT visit to a drilling rig in the western Indian Ocean off Tanzania we decided to put a time-laspe camera on the location to observe the interaction. The fish, a cusk eel (Bassozetus) remained under the coral (an antipatharian, Schizopathes) for most of the duration of the timelapse footage (around 30 hours). The only occasions the fish left its cover it had returned in the subsequent frame.

The observations have been published in the journal Marine Biodiversity and suggest the fish may expend less energy when under the coral. Other similar observations in the area suggest such associations are beneficial. These observations were chance encoutners that show the importance of fine scale habitat heterogeneity in deep-sea environments and highlight how much there is to learn about the animals that live in the deep sea. ROV observations are an important part of this process. The time-lapse movie is on the SERPENT You Tube channel.The individual frames are 1 minute apart.

The full text for the article is available here.

18 March 2016 - "Bony-Eared Assfish"

After the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada put a specimen of Acanthonus armatus on display there has been much media interest in the species because of its common name "bony-eared assfish". Like many deep-sea species there are few images of this animal in its natural habitat.

SERPENT collected some footage of Acanthonus armatus in 2012 during a visit to the Ocean Rig Poseidon off Tanzania. The video has proved a valuable resource in illustrating this public interest story.

Examples of articles using the video include National Geographic and Earth Touch News


4 February 2016 - Marine Life Talk

Andrew Gates gave a talk as part of the National Oceanography Centre's series of public lectures: Marine Life Talks. The presentation used video and photography from the recent series of SERPENT visits to the western Indian Ocean off Tanzania to describe the deep-sea life in this unexplored part of the ocean and considered the value of using ROVs in standby time to supplement environmental data collection at drilling locations.

Image courtesy of Marla Spencer

18 September 2015 - Deep, dark places to seek the sun.

Natasha Phillips and co-authors have just published a new paper in the Journal of Fish Biology about sunfish. The paper uses ROV observations from the SERPENT archive, other online resources such as You Tube and personal communication from deep-sea ecologists to demonstrate the use of deep-sea habitats by three species of sunfish. One of the observations of Mola ramsayi (the southern sunfish) at 483 m depth is the deepest yet recorded for this species.

Sunfish dive into deep water to make use of gelatinous zooplankton as a food source at mesopelagic depths. The observations here did not capture any feeding behaviour but the deepest were made during the day, in line with diel-vertical migrations of zooplankton. Interestingly, one of the observations showed a sunfish Masturus lanceolatus was interacting with subsea equipment. It is suggested that this might be an attempt to remove parasites. Structures for such purposes are rare in the open ocean. A video of one of the observations is on the SERPENT You Tube channel and the lead author, Natasha has written a blog post on her Sunfish Research page.

Phillips, N. D., Harrod, C., Gates, A. R., Thys, T. M. and J. D. R. Houghton (2015). Seeking the sun in deep, dark places: mesopelagic sightings of ocean sunfishes (Molidae). Journal of Fish Biology. DOI: 10.1111/jfb.12769

10 September 2015 - SERPENT presentations at the 14th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium

The 14th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium took place in Aveiro, Portugal from the 31st August to 4th September 2015. The symposium takes place every three years and offers an opportunity for biologists around the world to get together, present their work, discuss the latest developments in deep-sea research and think about the future.

The SERPENT Project was represented by Andrew Gates' presentation about recent fieldwork in Tanzania. There was also a poster on display for the week showing highlights from science publications by SERPENT scientists in the UK (A. Gates and D. Jones), Australia (D. Booth and D. Skropeta) and the USA (M. Benfield).

The next symposium will take place in Monterey, California in 2018.

20 August 2015 - New publication: Behaviour and habitat of a burrowing deep-sea amphipod

SERPENT collaborated with scientists from the Institute of Marine Research in Norway to describe the behvaiour and habitat of the deep-sea burrowing amphipod Neohela sp. As with many deep-sea species, very little is known about these animals but their burrows can be very common in certain areas. Observations were made in ROV video surveys during SERPENT visits to drilling rigs in the Norwegian Sea and in the Norwegian offshore mapping project MAREANO. They revealed patchy distribution of the burrows on the sediment, especially in areas with high densities of the seapen Umbellula. The amphipods appear to maintain their burrows by removing balls of sediment, which they roll out of the burrow entrance. They also move their antennae in a sweeping motion which may draw food (fine detritus) into the burrow.

The paper is published in the Journal of Natural History: Buhl-Mortensen, L., Tandberg, H. S., Buhl-Mortensen, P & Gates, A. R. (2015). Behaviour and habitat of Neohela monstrosa (Boek, 1861) (Amphipoda: Corophiida) in Norwegian Sea deep water. Journal of Natural History.

10 August 2015 - Angolan siphonophore article by New Scientist

An ROV team operating for BP in Angola encountered an unusual deep-sea creature they did not recognize. The team, Luciano Pedro, Juan Contreras and Jeffrey Harker from Oceaneering sent the footage to SERPENT and with the help of Dr Philip Pugh it was identified as Bathyphysa conifera.

The animal was nick-named the "flying spaghetti monster" by the ROV team that spotted it. The video, on the SERPENT You Tube channel, has been picked up by New Scientist and several news outlets including CNN and 9news. The media coverage of the observation is detailed here.

01 August 2015 - Summary of recent field work in Tanzania

SERPENT have been working on board BG Group's Deepsea Metro-1 Drillship at a series of wells off at depths to 2600 m off the east coast of Tanzania. The work has involved ROV video survey and baited time-lapse camera experiments to explore the fascinating marine biodiversity at these depths in an unexplored part of the western Indian Ocean. Sediment sampling has also been carried out to improve our understanding of the effects of drilling disturbance. A summary of some of the work is available here.

Sphyrna lewini

24 June 2015 - New publication: Deepest record of the Scalloped Hammerhead.

This observation of a scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is the deepest accurately reported in the scientific literature. It was made from an ROV launched from the Deepsea Metro 1 at over 1000 m depth off Tanzania in the western Indian Ocean.

The observation is published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records (subscription required) and the video is avaiblable on You Tube.

21 May 2015 - Article about collaboration with Shell in the Gulf of Mexico

Shell have published an article about collaboration with Prof. Mark Benfield to improve understanding of deep-sea biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico.

The article is available on Shell's Inside Energy online magazine.


19 November 2014 - New video highlights from the Gulf of Mexico

A new highlights video from Mark Benfield's Gulf SERPENT work is available at

This shows observations of marine life at a range of depths viewed from industrial ROVs in the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Gulf SERPENT Project. Gulf SERPENT is funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management with in-kind funding by Shell, BP, Chevron, and Petrobras-America.

13 October 2014 - New paper on Angolan megafauna

Daniel Jones has published a new paper in Deep Sea Research I about the megafauna associated with asphalt mounds on the deep sea floor off Angola. Asphalt mounds are formed from hydrocarbon seepage associated with subsurface salt structures. The paper describes mapping 2254 asphalt mounds and then using industry ROVs to explore them in further detail. The mounds provided habitat for many epifaunal species and these structures may represent important habitat on other continental margins around the world.

The paper is Open Access and available for download from the journal Deep Sea Research Part I.


20 May 2014 - EU Maritime Day

Andrew Gates presented SERPENT at EU Maritime Day 2014 in Bremen in the stakeholder workshop entitled "Sustainable extraction of marine resources from the deep sea". The presentation, invited by OGP, showed how collaboration between scientists with industry can be used to increase our understanding of the deep sea. It was also an opportunity, during a panel discussion about extraction of resources, to show video of the often fragile organisms and habitats of the deep sea as a reminder of the importance of monitoring and limiting impacts in unexplored areas.


Porania pulvillus

16 May 2014 - Natural history meets data mining

An article on Echinoblog shows how observations collected through a variety of deep-sea research projects can be collated to inform our understanding of the ecology of animals we would otherwise have limited access to study. Among other observations the article highlights images from the SERPENT archive that show the asteroid Porania pulvillus feeding.

The SERPENT images were collected at the Lancaster and Whirlwind sites west of Shetland through our collaboration with Hurricane Energy, the Cashel site off Ireland in collaboration with Statoil and at BP's Schiehallion location. Details of the SEPRENT visits are available on the Missions pages.



13 May 2014 - Food falls off Angola

Working with Nick Higgs from Plymouth University, SERPENT scientists Daniel Jones and Andrew Gates have published a paper describing some amazing observations of the carcasses of a whale shark and mobulid rays at the seabed 1200 m deep off Angola. This research represents the first observations of large food-falls aside from whale-falls. The paper describes the scavenging fauna that feed at this bonanza of food and considers the role of large food-falls in the export of carbon to the deep sea floor.

The paper is available from the online journal PLoS One and the BBC provides some media coverage.

Higgs, N. D., Gates, A. R., Jones, D. O. B. (2014) Fish Food in the Deep Sea: Revisiting the Role of Large Food-Falls. PLoS ONE 9(5):e96016. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096016

30 January 2014 - Article about SERPENT work off Tanzania

BG Group have published an article about recent SERPENT Project visits to the Deepsea Metro 1 drillship operating offshore Tanzania. This is part of an ongoing study of the deep sea in an unexplored part of the Indian Ocean off East Africa.

The web article is available on BG Group's website and a PDF version is available here. There are more SERPENT Project observations from the deep western Indian Ocean in our archive.


21 June 2013 - SERPENT Nigeria paper published

Our paper describing the deep-sea life recorded off Nigeria has just come out. This paper details the results from our work with Total Nigeria at the Usan (and Akpo) sites on the Nigerian Margin. This work documents the changes in the seabed life in relation to seabed slope just outside the main hydrocarbon development area at Usan. It is the first study to look at the larger seabed fauna in the deep-waters of Nigeria. We found some important insights into the role of seabed slope (or factors associated with it) in structuring communities, as well as documenting some impressive and diverse assemblages of deep-water fauna, particularly in areas of high slope. The paper can be downloaded here and is listed on our publications page.


10 June 2013 - SERPENT observations of Oarfish hit the news.

Extraordinary footage of a rarely seen giant deep sea fish has been captured by SERPENT scientists. Using a remotely operated vehicle, Mark Benfield (the leader of GulfSERPENT) caught rare video of five oarfish. These appear to be the first observations from remotey operated vehicles (ROVs) and are among only a few sightings of the fish in its natural oceanic habitat. The oarfish, which can reach 6-8 m in length, is generally known from dead or dying specimens that was ashore.

Oarfish (Regalecus glesne) are one of the world's longest fish reaching 6 - 8 m. Their strange appearance may have provided the basis for the sea serpent myths told by early ocean travellers. Not only are they elongated, they also have a prominent dorsal fin which gives it an unusual "serpent" appearance. Benfield's team reports on the deepest record of an oarfish from 493 m below BP's Thunder Horse platform. Recalling the event Professor Benfield explained how at first, they thought the fish was simply a drilling pipe called a riser being lowered into the water. "We saw this bright vertical shiny thing, I said 'are they lowering more riser?' as it looked like they were lowering a huge pipe." "We zoomed in a little bit and we said 'that's not a riser that's a fish!'". "As we approached it retreated downwards swimming tail first in a vertical orientation as the ROV followed," Professor Benfield explained. The team followed the fish for about five minutes before breaking off contact to resume their surveys. "What was interesting about the fish was its swimming behaviour," said Professor Benfield. "It moved by undulating its dorsal fin in waves that propelled it backwards at quite a good speed." Early estimates measure the fish at between 5.1 - 6.8 m in length.

Professor Benfield said this may be the first time the oarfish has been filmed alive swimming in the so-called mesopelagic layer of the ocean. Usually, they are seen dying at the sea surface or washed up dead. The fish may have been caught on camera at a depth of 765m at another Serpent survey site, off western Africa in 2007, but a positive identification has not yet been made from that video. On this occasion the fish was observed underneath Thunderhorse in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest semi-submersible oil rigs in the world. The Serpent project run by the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) is a unique collaborative project between scientists and industry. Oil and gas companies allow scientists access to their deep sea technologies and infrastructure in a bid to aid their research. "(It) provides a wonderful opportunity to learn more about life in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. That we found an oarfish while doing so was a fantastic bonus," said Professor Benfield. Professor Benfield is excited by the potential for further discoveries and revelations from the deep that the SERPENT project may bring. "It's all very exciting, my vision for the Gulf SERPENT Project is to establish a Gulf-wide deep sea biological observation system, with hundreds of ROV-equipped ships and rigs in the deep Gulf." "(We can) get a good idea of what species are present, where they are present, and what they are doing.".

The results of this study have been published in the Journal of Fish Biology. Links to all five observations are available from: This story has also been heavily reported in the mainstream media and blogosphere. Including the BBC news, Daily Mail and Deep-sea News.


4 February 2013 - INDEEP settlement frames recovered.

The first frames have been recovered from a collaborative project to investigate larval recruitment in the deep sea using industry infrastructure.

This project is part of INDEEP and has enlisted the help of Transocean to get access to deep water to deploy the settlement frames.

More details are available here.

24 January 2013 - Meeting in Tanzania

Andrew Gates went to Dar-es-Salaam to present the results of SERPENT's field work off Tanzania. Statoil organised the seminar to present and discuss environmental projects related to their deep-water exploration. As part of this work, Andrew went offshore from Tanzania last year to investigate deep-sea biodiversity around drilling rigs operating in the area. A mission report will be on the SERPENT website soon.

Images collected offshore Tanzania are archived in the SERPENT database.


19 December 2012 - Daniel Jones' guest post on Deep-Sea News

Read Daniel Jones' guest post about SERPENT's recent work on deep-sea hydrocarbon drilling on the Deep-Sea News blog.


17 December 2012 - SERPENT at the 13th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium in Wellington

Andrew Gates, Daniel Jones and Charlie Main recently attended the 13th Deep-Sea Biology Symposium in Wellington, New Zealand.

Andrew presented the results of recent SERPENT research on disturbance and recovery from hydrocarbon drilling in deep water and Charlie described the results from her experiments investigating the effects of oil on deep-sea sediments. Daniel's presntation predicted the effects of climate change on future benthic biomass.

The presentation titles were as follows:

Gates; The SERPENT Project: Exploring deep-sea life, anthropogenic disturbance and recovery at hydrocarbon exploration sites

Main; Investigating the effects of deep-sea oil spills on sediment community oxygen consumption

Jones; Future reductions in global ocean benthic biomass predicted as a result of climate change

20 November 2012 - SERPENT studies on recovery from disturbance in deep water are available online

The two studies of disturbance in deep water which SERPENT scientists have been working on have now been published. The study from the Laggan site in the Faroe-Shetland Channel is published in Marine Ecology Progress Series and the study from Morvin in the Norwegian Sea is in PLOS One. The studies were carried out at 600 m and 380 m depth.

The work suggests some evidence for recovery after three years at both sites but confirms that full recovery in the deep sea may take many years.

Both papers are open access so they are freely available to download:

Gates, A. R. and Jones, D. O. B. (2012) Recovery of benthic megafauna from anthropogenic disturbance at a hydrocarbon drilling well (380 m depth in the Norwegian Sea). PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044114

Jones, D. O. B., Gates, A. R. and Lausen, B. (2012) Recovery of deep-water megafaunal assemblages from hydrocarbon drilling disturbance in the Faroe-Shetland Channel. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 461:71-82. DOI: 10.3354/meps09827


15 October 2012 - Deep-sea biodiveristy in the Eastern Mediterranean - SERPENT's deepest site

A study has been published recently describing the results of SERPENT work carried out onboard the Discoverer Americas in the Eastern Mediterranean. At 2720 m this is SERPENT's deepest study site so far.

The paper in African Journal of Marine Science describes the benthic megafauna and fishes observed during a week of ROV observations at the Kiwi location north of Egypt. This part of the Mediterranean is extremely oligotrophic owing to high water temperature throughout the water column (14C at the seabed) and megafaunal abundance was very low. Occasional observations of crabs and fish were made but it was not until bait was deployed that any numbers of organisms were recorded. Even then it was predominantly one species of crab.

The paper is available here:

Gates, A. R., Jones, D. O. B., Cartes, J. E. (2012) In situ video observations of benthic megafauna and fishes from the deep eastern Mediterranean Sea off Egypt. African Journal of Marine Science 32: 215-222. DOI:10.2989/1814232X.2012.675121


12 August 2012 - SERPENT papers on recovery

SERPENT has got two major new papers accepted in peer-reviewed journals. These papers present the first analyses of recovery in deep-water megafauna from drilling disturbance. One paper is just out in Marine Ecology Progress Series and focusses on recovery at the deep water Laggan site in the Faroe-Shetland Channel. The other paper will be released soon in PLOS One and assesses recovery at the Morvin site in the Norwegian Sea.

05 March 2012 - SERPENT article on Shell's website

Following Andrew Gates' presentation at The Hague a new article has been published by Charlotte Brookes on Shell's website. It covers the collaboration with SERPENT at Dalsnuten and Gro in the Norwegian Sea and South Uist in the Faroe Shetland Channel. Thanks to all the hard work at these locations by Kerstin Kröger, Daniel Jones and Nicolai Roterman.

For more information about the sites please look at the image in the SERPENT archive.

25 February 2012 - New SERPENT publications

Two of SERPENT's recent science projects have just been published.

Daniel Jones' investigation of the effects of disturbance on the deep-sea megafauna at the Orca oil well offshore Venezuela was published in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK.

Junya Hirai's study of krill density over space and time at numerous SERPENT sites in the Faroe-Shetland Channel is published in Marine Biology Research.


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