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article imageNOAA finds a ghostly octopus deep in the ocean — Meet 'Casper'

By Karen Graham     Mar 5, 2016 in Science
While exploring the deep ocean off the coast of Hawaii in late February, NOAA scientists, using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) discovered what they believe is a new species of octopus, and it is really cute.
NOAA's Okeanos Explorer, the only federally funded U.S. ship built to explore the Earth's oceans for science, travels the world, deploying its ROV, Deep Discoverer to the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean's floor.
Over the years, videos of the ROV's discoveries have been made public, showing the world the treasure trove of exciting and unusual creatures and geological formations the Earth keeps hidden below the seas. And we humans have seen some really unusual and often beautiful deep ocean creatures.
Such is the case with the latest discovery, filmed on February 27, 2016, on the ROV's first dive of the 2016 season. Deep Discoverer was sent down to depths of over 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) northeast of Necker Island (Mokumanamana) in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
The primary objective of the dive was to collect geologic samples on Necker Ridge to see if the composition of the rock was the same as the rock formations found on Necker Island. The ROV was also surveying the area for any biological life.
But as Gizmodo says, you never know what you might find when you go exploring. As the ROV was skimming over a flat area of rock mixed with sediment at 2.6 miles (4.3 kilometers), it came across a lonesome looking little creature, sitting on a flat rock, lightly dusted with sediment.
ROV Deep Discoverer approaches the unknown octopod at 4 290 meters depth.
ROV Deep Discoverer approaches the unknown octopod at 4,290 meters depth.
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
The remarkable little octopod did not resemble anything in the published records. The animal had several features that make it unusual. Besides being the deepest-dwelling cephalopod ever found, it was also the deepest-dwelling finless ( incirrate) octopod ever found. The new find also has one series of suckers instead of two on each arm.
Michael Vecchione, a NOAA zoologist working for the Smithsonian Institution says that deep ocean octopods, such as the "dumbo" octopod are cirrate, or have fins. "I knew it didn’t look like anything that’s been documented in the scientific literature," Vecchione told National Geographic.
One of the rare finned octopods known as  Dumbos  collected on the summer 2009 MAR-ECO cruise.
One of the rare finned octopods known as "Dumbos" collected on the summer 2009 MAR-ECO cruise.
Mike Vecchione, NOAA
The video, while being short, does show the little octopus have certain adaptations that enable it to live at such depths. For one, it has very few muscles, looking more like a blob of jelly or a ghost. This is probably because there is little to eat in the deep sea, and it takes a lot of energy to build muscles.
NOAA writes, "This resulted in a ghostlike appearance, leading to a comment on social media that it should be called Casper, like the friendly cartoon ghost. It is almost certainly an undescribed species and may not belong to any described genus."
ROV Deep Discoverer is recovered after the first successful dive of the expedition.
ROV Deep Discoverer is recovered after the first successful dive of the expedition.
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Vecchione points out the octopod has no pigment cells, or chromatophores, giving it a ghost-like appearance because there is no need for color that deep below the surface. Interestingly, the creature's eyes are probably functional, he says. "When the sub got up close to it, it started climbing away, either reacting to lights of the sub or vibrations of the water," Vecchione adds.
More about ghost octopus, Hawaiian archipelago, deepest observation, incirrate octopod, New species
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