The Okeanos Explorer is back in action and busily probing the Gulf of Mexico’s silted ocean floor. In the first few dives we’ve been treated to some impressive crustaceans, like the nightmare-inducing blind lobster Acanthacaris caeca and the gigantic red and white squat lobster Munidopsis spinosus.
One of the most spectacular highlights so far was a perplexing purple squid which hovered tranquilly before the camera at a depth of nearly 3,000 feet. Rather than the sleek, hydrodynamic shape that we typically associate with this group, the species seen here is plump in proportions and positions its arms in an unorthodox position above and against the body.
But why are those two tentacles held aloft? And what about those two dangling behind it? Are these used to lure prey, or is this some sort of defensive posture? Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about these creatures. Live specimens are rarely observed, and, even when we do happen upon one, there’s only so much that can be discerned from a short clip of it swimming. The more important questions of how it interacts with its environment and how its morphology and behaviors are adapted for this will remain a mystery.
Today's #Okeanos dive is the unexplored deep-sea Perdido Canyon in the western Gulf of Mexico. Many submarine canyons are hotspots of abundance and biodiversity. Dive time is ~8:15 AM, CDT, planned depth is ~2,600 – 2,800 m. Watch live: https://t.co/zNbfgfs60T pic.twitter.com/oA3CUEdzfg
— NOAA Ocean Exploration (@oceanexplorer) April 18, 2018
As for what this is, the verdict has yet to come in. The initial diagnosis was the little-known family Cycloteuthidae, which has just two genera and a handful of species to its name. Images of these squids in situ are virtually non-existent, making this an especially noteworthy find for a group that up until now has primarily been known from damaged specimens brought up in trawls.
According to cephalopod expert Mike Vecchione of NOAA’s National Systematic Laboratory, “What we’re looking at now is probably the most bizarre squid I’ve ever seen.”. For a longer look at this remarkable beast, click the video below.