[Many thanks to Valerie Storfer for bringing tis item to our attention.] Not sure why articles refer to it as a blob… it sounds so disrespectful. In “Scientists Confirm Entirely New Species of Gelatinous Blob from The Deep, Dark Sea,” Peter Dockrill (Science Alert) reports on a new discovery—the Duobrachium sparksae: “For the first time, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have formally identified a new species of undersea creature based solely on high-definition video footage captured at the bottom of the ocean.” It was discovered using a remotely operated vehicle off the coast of Puerto Rico, in the Guajataca Canyon, at 2.5 miles below the surface. It looks like a tiny hot air balloon with tentacles hanging above the seafloor. Dockrill writes:
And what an undersea creature it is. Meet Duobrachium sparksae – a strange, gelatinous species of ctenophore, encountered by the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer during a dive off the coast of Puerto Rico.
That encounter took place back in 2015, but when you’re laying claim to discovering a wholly new species – based solely on video evidence, for that matter, with no physical specimens to help make your case – it helps to do your due diligence. Luckily, Deep Discoverer’s cameras – the footage of which you can see here – were up to the job, capable of picking up subtle details on D. sparksae’s body less than a millimetre long.
Subsequent analysis of the organism – now detailed in a new paper – indicates it’s easily distinguishable from all other known ctenophore species, the researchers say. “It’s unique because we were able to describe a new species based entirely on high-definition video,” explains NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins. “We don’t have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects.” Those aspects are manifold. From a distance, D. sparksae’s most notable feature is its bulbous, balloon-like body, but it also features two prominent tentacle arms.
In total, three different individuals were filmed by the ROV at depths of around 3,900 metres (almost 2.5 miles down), with one of the animals appearing to perhaps be using its tentacles to anchor itself to the seabed.
“It was a beautiful and unique organism,” says oceanographer Mike Ford. “It moved like a hot air balloon attached to the seafloor on two lines, maintaining a specific altitude above the seafloor. Whether it’s attached to the seabed, we’re not sure. We did not observe direct attachment during the dive, but it seems like the organism touches the seafloor.”
The other specimens might not have been touching the seabed, but all three of the animals were spotted within two metres of it, in a feature called the Arecibo Amphitheater, which lies within an underwater trench known as the Guajataca Canyon.
It’s in these very deep parts of the ocean where ctenophores are found, but the extreme depth of their natural habitat means we don’t encounter these mysterious animals – let alone new species – very often.
Ctenophores go by a number of common names, many of which seem almost comical: comb jellies (named after their ‘combs’ of fine cilia) is the most popular, but they have also been referred to as sea gooseberries, sea walnuts, and Venus’s girdles. [. . .]