When you hear "Gulf of Mexico," what comes to mind? Probably either "a nice vacation spot" or "oil ... lots of oil." But a recent expedition conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has revealed that the Gulf is so much more than that.
Last December, a NOAA team spent a month studying the depths of the Gulf, using remote-operated submersibles and shore-based instruments. Below are photos of some of the incredible creatures they found.
1. Colorful Sea Stars
A dense community of sea stars hangs onto this rock formation on the ocean floor. These animals are filter feeders.
2. Blind Lobsters
These two white lobsters are completely blind because they live in total darkness. These two are apparently roommates, bunking in the same burrow.
3. Futuristic-Looking Fish
This weird creature that appears to be part fish and part elf is called Harriotta raleighana. It's a type of chimaera, an order that includes ghost sharks, rat fish and spook fish. They're related to sharks, but they branched off in the evolutionary chain 400 million years ago.
4. Fish That Look Like Tongues
This unfortunate creature is literally called a tonguefish. It's related to flounders and moves along the seafloor by using its side fines like millipede legs.
5. Beautiful Coral
This is called bamboo coral. The exploration team found it growing out of a sediment substrate.
6. Giant Pill Bugs
This is an isopod called Bathynomus giganteus. It's basically like a gigantic pill bug, growing to almost 1 foot long. Here it's peaking out from its burrow, and you can see a spider crab hitching a ride on its back (it's unclear why). To see a video of it swimming, click here.
For more amazing photos taken during the expedition, you can visit the NOAA's website.