For the primary time, scientists with the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have formally recognized a brand new species of undersea creature based mostly solely on high-definition video footage captured on the backside of the ocean.
And what an undersea creature it’s. Meet Duobrachium sparksae – an odd, gelatinous species of ctenophore, encountered by the remotely operated automobile (ROV) Deep Discoverer throughout a dive off the coast of Puerto Rico.
That encounter passed off again in 2015, however while you’re laying declare to discovering a completely new species – based mostly solely on video proof, for that matter, with no bodily specimens to assist make your case – it helps to do your due diligence.
Fortunately, Deep Discoverer‘s cameras – the footage of which you’ll see right here – have been as much as the job, able to choosing up delicate particulars on D. sparksae‘s physique lower than a millimetre lengthy.
Subsequent evaluation of the organism – now detailed in a new paper – signifies it is simply distinguishable from all different recognized ctenophore species, the researchers say.
“It is distinctive as a result of we have been capable of describe a brand new species based mostly totally on high-definition video,” explains NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins.
“We do not have the identical microscopes as we’d in a lab, however the video can provide us sufficient info to grasp the morphology intimately, equivalent to the placement of their reproductive elements and different features.”
These features are manifold. From a distance, D. sparksae‘s most notable function is its bulbous, balloon-like physique, but it surely additionally options two distinguished tentacle arms.
In complete, three totally different people have been filmed by the ROV at depths of round 3,900 metres (nearly 2.5 miles down), with one of many animals showing to maybe be utilizing its tentacles to anchor itself to the seabed.
“It was a good looking and distinctive organism,” says oceanographer Mike Ford.
“It moved like a sizzling air balloon hooked up to the seafloor on two traces, sustaining a selected altitude above the seafloor. Whether or not it is hooked up to the seabed, we’re unsure. We didn’t observe direct attachment through the dive, but it surely looks as if the organism touches the seafloor.”
The opposite specimens won’t have been touching the seabed, however all three of the animals have been noticed inside two metres of it, in a function known as the Arecibo Amphitheater, which lies inside an underwater trench often called the Guajataca Canyon.
It is in these very deep elements of the ocean the place ctenophores are discovered, however the excessive depth of their pure habitat means we do not encounter these mysterious animals – not to mention new species – fairly often.
Ctenophores go by quite a lot of widespread names, lots of which appear nearly comical: comb jellies (named after their ‘combs’ of effective cilia) is the most well-liked, however they’ve also been referred to as sea gooseberries, sea walnuts, and Venus’s girdles.
Whereas the animals can superficially resemble jellyfish, they don’t seem to be carefully associated. Ctenophores, that are carnivorous, subsist on small arthropods and numerous sorts of larvae.
As much as about 200 species have been described up to now, with about one new species being discovered every year on common, and most discoveries depend on video seize strategies for the idea of bodily descriptions, given the difficulties of amassing specimens.
“This presents considerably of a conundrum as a result of taxonomy depends closely upon bodily kind specimens preserved in museums to function references to which different materials may be in contrast,” the researchers explain in their paper.
“Certainly, the concept of utilizing photographic proof to ascertain new species has been extremely contentious in latest a long time.”
Fortunately, given the high-definition footage the staff bought of those three effective specimens of D. sparksae, the researchers say they did not get “any pushback” about their species discovery.
Whereas the staff hopes to gather specimens on future dives for bodily evaluation, they are saying it is likely to be a long time earlier than they’ve the prospect to run into the comb jelly once more.
For D. sparksae‘s sake, that is likely to be for the very best: bringing a gelatinous blob as much as sea degree, when it usually resides about 4 kilometres below the ocean’s floor, is usually a messy affair.
“Even when we had the gear, there would have been little or no time to course of the animal as a result of gelatinous animals do not protect very properly,” Collins says.
“Ctenophores are even worse than jellyfish on this regard.”
The findings are reported in Plankton and Benthos Research.