Sea Anemones Found Clinging Upside-Down to Antarctic Ice

How could anything live under 800 feet of ice? How could it get there?

Jan. 17, 2014— -- They may not look like anything you would find in an aquarium, but there is life buried deep in the Antarctic depths. The Antarctic Geological Drilling team (Andrill) found that underneath the surface reside several types of sea critters, including upside down anemones attached to the underside of the ice shelf.

"We were doing survey work and melted a hole through 260 meters of ice," Frank Rack, Andrill's executive director, told ABC News. "We deployed the robot and as it got closer, the cameras detected anemones."

Caught by surprise, Rack knew that he wanted to find a way to get some anemones back to a lab to analyze. "There was fog on the ice shelf, so there were no flights in or out," he said. "We had to improvise, so we made a suction sampler with spare parts from our robot vehicle."

With the animals plucked from the ice shelf's underbelly, Rack sent them to Meg Daly, an associate professor of evolution, ecology, and organismal biology at Ohio State University. "There is quite a lot of life [in the Antarctic water] but what's special about this sea anemone is that doesn't live on the ground," she said. "It lives underneath the ice."

How the anemones were able to penetrate the ice still mystifies Daly. "Try and imagine an earthworm burrowing into an ice cube," she said. "These guys are like water balloons. They don't have anything sharp and their muscles aren't particularly strong."

Daly's and Rack's anemone observations were published in the journal PLoS One, but the tentacled creatures aren't the only animals lying underneath Antarctica. "There's krill and jellyfish, but there's an organism that we don't know what it is," said Rack. "It looks like an egg roll."