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These New Deep Sea Photos Give A Rare Glimpse At Some Truly Strange Creatures

Last time we checked in, the Okeanos Explorer was only just getting underway. For a quick refresher, the expedition is using remote controlled underwater rovers to do deep-sea exploration in marine protected areas of the Pacific Ocean. They’ve spent over 100 hours underwater, at depths of up to 3 miles!

After a brief interruption to the proceedings for your standard come-to-the-rescue mission to save stranded monk seal researchers from a tropical storm (and to do some repairs), they launched again over the weekend for Leg 4 of the exploration.

Enough backstory, let’s check out some of the amazing footage the team has captured so far!

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This is a brisingid asteroid, a type of starfish named after the necklace worn by the Norse god Freya.

A brisingid asteroid, probably in the genus Hymenodiscus.
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

There’s a lot going on in these next photos. They show corals and sponges wrapped with brittle star starfish, sea lilies, crustaceans, and jellyfish.

Deep-sea corals and sponges provide habitat and refuge for many other animals living on or near the seafloor. Here, a sponge covered with hundreds to thousands of tiny anemones also provides a home to several brittlestars (pink), crinoids or “sea lilies” (yellow), and a basket star (brown).
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
A commensal brittle star on a deep-sea pink coral photographed at Salmon Bank in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
A commensal brittle star on a deep-sea pink coral photographed at Salmon Bank in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
A corallium that is nearly completely overgrown by zooanthid (another type of cnidarian), and a brittlestar living in association. This particular species or coral is not commercially harvested, but is in the precious coral group that is often commercially harvested for jewelry at shallower depths.
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
Large stalked sponge (Bolosoma sp.) providing a home for a myriad of brittlestars and crustacean associates.
Large stalked sponge (Bolosoma sp.) providing a home for a myriad of brittlestars and crustacean associates. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

They also found all sorts of beautiful coral unmolested by other creatures. These are some of the largest and oldest sea corals known.

Individuals of this species can attaing sizes approaching 6 m, thereby making them the largest deep-sea coral known to date.
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
An extremely old Farrea nr occa erecta sponge found ~2660 m deep at McCall Seamount. This species has two types of morphologies - a bushy type and a stalked type (shown here). A fairly large number of dead colonies of this sponge were observed during the dive - this was the only live sponge of this type encountered.
An extremely old Farrea nr occa erecta sponge found ~2660 m deep at McCall Seamount.Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

And then there is the strange, like this squat lobster (actually related to hermit crabs):

A squat lobster perching on a undescribed genus of bamboo coral (family Isididae). This new genus of coral was first discovered in 2007 off of Twin Banks in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands/ Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

Or this stalked sponge:

A very large spectacular stalked sponge (Caulophacus sp.) encountered during the dive.
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

Or this starfish turning its guts inside-out to eat a coral!

Underside of a sea star feeding on a bamboo coral. Sea stars are predators of invertebrates and feed by inverting their guts on their prey.
Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

We’ll leave you with some fascinating videos of underwater locomotion.

It’s lovely bobbing along, singing a song on the bottom of the beautiful, briny sea!

Polychaete Worm swimming
Scaleless Polychaete Worm – Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana
Crinoid swimming
Crinoid swimming – Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana
Armored Searobin swimming
Armored Searobin – Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.
Squid: Walvisteuthis youngorum
First live Walvisteuthis youngorum squid ever seen – Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana.

The Okeanos will be out until the end of September, so be sure to keep checking for daily updates on the new mysteries of the deep being revealed!

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