Scientists discover ancient, underwater volcano is still active — and covered in up to a million giant eggs

Off the Pacific coast of Canada, scientists have found an old undersea volcano that is still active and "covered" with hundreds of enormous eggs.

The crew had previously believed that the volcano was dormant and the surrounding seas were icy. But they discovered that the submerged mountain, which rises 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) above the ocean's surface, was spewing warm water and covered in deep-sea corals. Some marine life can thrive in the deep sea thanks to the hot, mineral-rich fluid's ability to keep the surrounding waters warm. The discovery of a Pacific white skate (Bathyraja spinosissima) weaving in and out of the fronds and laying eggs on the peak, about a mile (1.5 kilometers) below the surface, astounded the researchers even more.

Cherisse Du Preez, a deep-sea marine scientist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the expedition's chief investigator, said in an email to Live Science that "it's a really special place on top of a really special place." The Galapagos Islands were the only location where a Pacific white skate nursery had ever been discovered, and there, I believe, were one or two dozen eggs.

Du Preez said that the freshly discovered skate nursery is many times larger. "I would guess that the seamount's peak, which was covered in eggs, had, I dunno, 100,000? One million? Du Preez reported that these eggs were substantial, being around 1.5 feet (0.5 m) wide.

In a video of the excursion, the researchers claimed that they were the first to ever capture footage of a Pacific white skate laying eggs.

Uncommon marine animals linked to rays and sharks are called Pacific white skates. According to the IUCN Red List, they are one of the deepest-dwelling species of skate, living between 2,600 and 9,500 feet (800 to 2,900 m) off the west coast of North and Central America. According to Du Preez, adult females, which may reach lengths of up to 6.5 feet (2 meters), deposit rectangular eggs known as "mermaid purses" because they resemble little bags.

Researchers in the Galapagos Islands region in 2018 found six of these ravioli-shaped eggs close to hydrothermal vents, suggesting skate mothers used the volcanic warmth to incubate their eggs. The updated observations support the same finding, according to Du Preez.

She said, "It takes the young four years to develop. "The warm water probably shortens the eggs' gestation time, producing youngsters that are more successful. It's a win-win situation since the seamount's shallow top is almost a coral garden and a secure nursery for young organisms to develop before they dive into the deep.

The egg-covered seamount, which is not currently protected and may be in danger from fishing operations, will be kept under close observation by the researchers. According to Du Preez, the finding demonstrates how crucial vent habitats are to the health of the ocean as a whole and as nurseries.