Sunday, March 6, 2016

NOAA: 'Ghost' Octopus Near Hawaii Likely A New Species

Pale blue Ghost Octopus

NOAA researchers have discovered a new ghost-like octopus near Hawaii which may be a new species of octopod.

NOAA's Ship Okeanos Explorer, the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore the ocean, was off the northeast coast of Necker Island (Mokumanamana) in the Hawaiian Archipelago last week when researchers first saw the pale-blue octopus at a depth of 4,290 meters below the ocean's surface.

While a remotely operated vehicle was traversing the sea floor, it came across the remarkable little octopod sitting on a flat rock dusted with a light coat of sediment. The appearance of this animal was unlike any published records and was the deepest observation ever for this type of cephalopod, NOAA scientists say.

Deep-sea octopods are easily separated into two distinct groups: (1) the cirrate, or finned, octopods (also known as “dumbo” octopods), characterized by fins on the sides of their bodies and fingerlike cirri associated with the suckers on their arms and (2) incirrate octopods, which lack both fins and cirri and are similar in appearance to common shallow-water Octopus.

According to Michael Vecchione of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, this newly-discovered octopod was a member of the second group - the incirrates. A distinctive characteristic was that the suckers were in one, rather than two, series on each arm. This animal was particularly unusual because it lacked the pigment cells, called chromatophores, typical of most cephalopods, and it did not seem very muscular. 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," wrote Vecchione.

Photo and video credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research