New images showing a giant sea creature with peculiar-looking tentacles floating languidly in the depths of the Pacific Ocean have left researchers wondering if what they’re seeing is a new species.
A team of scientists spotted the strange animal aboard the E/V Nautilus, a research vessel used by the Ocean Exploration Trust, a nonprofit organization that conducts deep-sea research. in a recently released video (opens in a new tab)Expedition researchers exclaimed oooh and aah as images of the strange creature came into focus. “My mind is blown right now,” one of the scientists on board can be heard saying off-camera, as the ship’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) scanned the ocean floor and inched closer to the alien. view. “I’m not on the edge of my seat or anything,” another scientist joked.
Moments later, scientists saw another of the strange creatures nearby, although they were unable to record video of the second individual.
With tentacles extending 16 inches (40 centimeters) from a nearly 7-foot-long (2-meter) stem, and a single feeding polyp with barbed tentacles that cup the polyp like spiky petals, the creature looked like a very strange flower. who swam freely. it was about the size of the ROV. It was spotted on July 7 at 9,823 feet (2,994 m) below the surface near a previously uncharted seamount north of Johnston Atoll, an unincorporated US territory and National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii. .
Investigators initially suspected they had interbred with Solumbellula monocephalus, also known as Solumbellula sea plume, which is part of the phylum Cnidaria that includes jellyfish, hydras, and corals. However, the only known sightings of sea pens before this have been in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, so scientists may have stumbled upon a new species.
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Steve Auscavitch, the expedition’s principal investigator and a deep-sea biologist and postdoctoral fellow at Boston University, described the sighting as “fascinating.”
“Every once in a while, we come across something we never expected to see, and those are often the most powerful observations,” he told Live Science.
He added: “We were nearing the end of our cruise and were at the bottom of the seabed when we observed the two [sea pens]. The one we captured on video was huge, possibly the same size or larger than Hercules, our ROV. When I saw this incredible sea plume on video, I knew exactly what it could be.”
But to be sure, Auscavitch sought the opinion of biologists on land, who helped confirm his suspicions that it was a sea plume, a relative of the coral. Based on the impressive size of the animal, Auscavitch guessed that it was quite old, however, he cannot give a specific age. (sea feathers reach maturity (opens in a new tab) at five or six years of age, and can live for more than a decade.)
“Before that, Solumbellula monocephalus it had never been seen in the central Pacific and had never been collected,” he said.
Interestingly, his team’s discovery came several months after scientists in Spain named two new genera of marine feathers: Pseudumbellula. Y Solumbellula , the latter of which would include the new species. Those findings were published in February in the journal Invertebrate Systematics (opens in a new tab).
However, Auscavitch said more research needs to be done to determine if this is the first Pacific Solumbellula monocephalus or potentially a new species in the ocean basin.
“Finds like this are rare, and we never expected to see something like this,” he said. “The most exciting part of this research is that we come across these things from time to time, and it really broadens our horizon as to where animals can live and exist in the deep sea.”
Originally published on Live Science.