Researchers have identified an eerie new form of deep-sea creatures using only high-definition video.
In 2015, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) steered a remotely operated vehicle through an underwater canyon off the coast of Puerto Rico.
At a depth of more than two miles, the drone encountered a ctenophore, or comb jelly, unlike other species that researchers had encountered.
It was rectangular, had two long tentacles, and moved as if anchored to the sea floor.
Since they couldn’t take a specimen, the researchers used the images to develop an anatomical diagram of the gelatinous blob, which they named Duobrachium sparksae.
It is the first time that NOAA scientists have used high-definition video exclusively to identify and describe a new creature.
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Scientists have identified Duobrachium sparksae, a new type of comb jelly found more than three kilometers below the surface off the coast of Puerto Rico in 2015.
The expedition was launched on April 10, 2015, about 25 miles northwest of Puerto Rico from the Okeanos Explorer, a decommissioned naval vessel converted into a NOAA reconnaissance vehicle.
The remote-controlled vehicle, Deep Discoverer, observed three individuals of this new species in the Guajataca Canyon, about 12,700 feet below the ocean’s surface.
“The cameras on the Deep Discoverer robot are capable of taking high-resolution images and measuring structures less than a millimeter,” said Allen Collins of NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research.
“We don’t have the same microscopes as in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects.”
Unable to take samples, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration relied on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to provide high-definition video that they could analyze to identify and describe the new creature
The jelly is rectangular and appears anchored to the sea floor, scientists say, which makes it very different from other ctenophores
Even if Deep Discoverer had had the option of taking samples, it wouldn’t have been very helpful because gelatinous animals cannot be preserved as well.
So the ROV’s camera sent images to the coastal control room in near real time, so Collins and colleague Mike Ford could start analyzing.
More than 100 types of comb jelly have been identified to date.
Most of these carnivorous invertebrates are round and have rows of hair-like cilia that refract light as they squirt through the water.
Most of the more than 100 known comb jellies are round and have rows of hair-like cilia that refract light when they shine through the water
But these specimens were distinctly different – they were rectangular, not round, and had only two long tentacles.
“When I saw this thing, I thought it looks so weird,” Collins said. ‘It’s like a party balloon, but instead of just one string hanging down, it’s two little dangles. And on each of those dangling pieces is a tentacle. ‘
It’s not clear whether the new ctenophore attached to the seafloor, Ford said, but it maintained a specific height while being observed.
“We went through the historical knowledge of ctenophores and it seemed clear that this was a new species, and also a genus,” Ford said. We then worked to place it properly in the tree of life. ‘
A photorealistic representation of Duobrachium sparksae. Announcing a new species based solely on video identification may be controversial, but the scientists say they haven’t faced any backlash since their findings were published
The Expedition of the Okeanos Explorer, a decommissioned naval vessel converted into a NOAA reconnaissance vehicle
The remote-controlled vehicle, called Deep Discoverer, scans the ocean floor at a depth of more than three kilometers
Announcing a new species solely on the basis of video identification may be controversial, but the scientists say they haven’t faced any backlash since they published their findings in the journal Plankton and Benthos Research.
“It was a really good example of how to do it the right way with video,” said Collins.
The ROV’s cameras picked up Duobrachium sparksae three times in a relatively small area, leading researchers to hope it’s not extremely rare.
“There are some species that have only been seen a handful of times,” Collins said. ‘It is possible that it could take years, decades, even a century for this species to be found again. It’s what makes the whole Okeanos Explorer operation so great. ‘
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