New footage showing a peculiar-looking giant sprawling sea creature languidly floating in the depths of the Pacific Ocean has researchers wondering if what they’re seeing is a new species.
A team of scientists spotted the strange animal aboard the E/V Nautilusa research vessel used by the Ocean Exploration Trust, a non-profit organization conducting research on the high seas.
In a newly released video, expedition researchers booed and hooted as images of the bizarre creature came into focus.
“My mind is blown right now,” one of the scientists on board can be heard saying off-camera, as the boat’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) scans the ocean floor and zooms in on the eerie sight. “I’m not on the edge of my seat or anything,” joked another scientist.
Moments later, scientists spotted another of the bizarre 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 taking the polyp like spiny petals, the creature looked like a very strange free-swimming flower that 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 unexplored seamount north of Johnston Atoll, an unincorporated U.S. territory and National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii.
The researchers first suspected that they had crossed paths with Solumbellula monocephalusalso known as the Solumbellula sea pen, part of the Cnidaria phylum which includes jellyfish, hydras and corals.
However, the only known sightings of sea pens before that occurred in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, so it’s possible scientists have stumbled upon a new species.
Related: 10 Weird Creatures Found In The Deep Sea In 2021
Steve Auscavitch, the expedition’s principal investigator and a deep-sea biologist and post-doctoral researcher at Boston University, described the sighting as “fascinating”.
“Once in a while we come across something we didn’t expect 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 massive, possibly the same size or larger than Hercules, our ROV. When I saw this incredible sea pen on video, I knew exactly what it could be.”
But just to be sure, Auscavitch sought the advice of biologists ashore, who helped confirm his suspicions that it was a sea pen, a relative of coral.
Based on the animal’s impressive size, Auscavitch assumed it was rather old, but he cannot give a precise age. (Sea pens reach maturity at five or six years and can live for more than a decade.)
“Before that, Solumbellula monocephalus had never been seen in the central Pacific and never collected,” he said.
Interestingly, his team’s discovery came several months after Spanish scientists named two new genera of sea pens: Pseudumbellule and solumbellule, the latter including the new species. These results were published in February in the journal Invertebrate systematics.
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.
“Findings like this are rare, and we didn’t expect 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 expands our horizons on where animals can live and exist in the deep sea.”
A deep sea squid mother wears a dazzling string of pearl-like eggs
This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.