Researchers on the last night of a voyage to find lobster larvae instead uncovered four extinct, undiscovered volcanoes some 155 miles off Australia's east coast. "My jaw just dropped," voyage leader Iain Suthers tells the Guardian. Though he says researchers believed the ocean floor in the area was "billiard-table flat," a new $120 million research vessel capable of mapping the seafloor at any depth revealed four calderas—big bowl-shaped craters shaped when the land around an erupting volcano crumples—across 12 miles. The largest, three miles below the surface, is almost half a mile tall and a mile across. Experts believe they were formed when shifting ocean plates broke Australia apart from New Zealand. "We went there to look at eddies in the east Australia current and it was completely serendipitous to find this volcano cluster," Suthers says. "We can only just imagine what will be around the corner if we continue to scan this area."
Sadly, there is only enough funding to have the "kick-arse ship," the Investigator, trolling the ocean for 180 days a year, Suthers tells the Sydney Morning Herald. As it's now at dock, the "inevitable" underwater volcanoes still undiscovered will have to wait to be found next year. Not only can the Investigator search deeper than its predecessor—which could see less than two miles below the surface—but it's also "an incredibly stable vessel for those of us who are seasick," Suthers says. "Usually when you're hit by (13-foot) waves you lose a couple of days of research because you're vomiting." A volcano expert, who calls the discovery "enormously exciting," says the volcanoes "tell us part of the story of how New Zealand and Australia separated around 40 million to 80 million years ago, and they'll now help scientists target future exploration of the sea floor to unlock the secrets of the Earth's crust." (Another ocean discovery: trillions of glow-in-the-dark fanged fish.)