Scientists try to maintain their composure when conducting research. But researchers aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus couldn’t help but get excited when they happened upon a goofy-looking, googly eyed purple squid while mapping the seafloor off southern California last week.
The creature was a stubby squid, Rossia pacifica, a species that lives in the Pacific ocean from Japan to southern California. The creature was just sitting out in the open on the sea floor when the crew spotted it. “It looks so fake,” one of the researchers says in a video of the encounter. “It looks like some little kid dropped their toy.”
The creature does look strange, like its eyes were painted on its bright purple body by a child. But Samantha Wishnak, a science communication fellow aboard the E/V Nautilus, tells Kacey Deamer at Live Science that things only get weirder from there. “They actually have this pretty awesome superpower, they can turn on a little sticky mucus jacket over their body and sort of collect bits of sand or pebbles or whatever they’re burrowing into and make a really nice camouflage jacket,” she says. “When they go to ambush something and prey on something, they're able to sort of turn off that mucus jacket.”
The researchers were lucky, says Wishnak, to see the little squid out in the open since the nocturnal predator typically hides in the sediment in its jacket waiting for prey. She also says most of the scientists watching the feed from the ROV were geologists and ecologists unfamiliar with deep sea species, so they were much more excited to see the crazy-looking creature than seasoned marine biologists. Biologists watching the video feed on shore identified the little squid.
The E/V Nautilus is a research vessel funded by Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard’s nonprofit Ocean Exploration Trust. Its mission is to map and research little-explored regions of Earth’s oceans, often streaming live footage of their research to scientists and ocean lovers around the world.
The Nautilus, along with NOAA’s deep sea research vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, has provided a steady stream of images and video, capturing spectacular deep sea creatures in recent months. Just two weeks ago, Nautilus made headlines by discovering a strange purple orb in California's Channel Islands, which may be a new species of pleurobranch, a genus of sea slugs. Researchers also documented a ghost-like octopus in Hawaii. And in May, the Okeanos ventured to the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean, and found dozens of new and interesting species, including an animated-looking glowing jellyfish.
The Nautilus is now leaving southern California for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary outside San Francisco where it will explore the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Independence as well as venture through deep sea habitats and coral.