Hold on to your hats: A sea cucumber that looks like a headless chicken has been caught on video in the deep seas near East Antarctica.
It’s a surprising location for the species, Enypniastes eximia, to turn up. The last place it was filmed was thousands of miles away in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Researchers from Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy noticed the animal while using new deep-sea camera technology that they say was developed with the commercial longline fishing industry to help with fisheries management. The idea is to find vulnerable ecosystems to prevent the fishing industry from doing damage.
“We needed something that could be thrown from the side of a boat, and would continue operating reliably under extreme pressure in the pitch black for long periods of time,” Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dirk Welsford said in a statement. “Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world.”
He describes the moment the poultry-like sea creature came into their view. “We’ve got hours and hours of footage of not much really, and then one of our technicians was sitting there watching this footage and the chicken monster floated past,” Welsford told Australia’s ABC.
Take a look:
“They don’t do much, they lie there and they suck on the sea floor to try to extract food,” Welsford said.
That delicate feeding pattern was visible in footage caught last year in the Gulf of Mexico in a voyage from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ship Okeanos Explorer. The animal “spends most of its time on the seafloor, feeding off of surface sediments; it can, however, swim if it wants to get somewhere more quickly or evade a predator,” according to NOAA.
As The New York Times noted, it’s unusual for a sea cucumber to be able to swim, which is possible for this animal because of its fins. The newspaper added that it was first spotted in the 1880s in Peruvian waters.
It’s sometimes known as the Spanish dancer, likely because of those graceful fin motions. The fact that it turned up in the Southern Ocean only emphasizes how much more we have to learn about the deep.
“There are still many, many mysteries in the deep ocean that we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of,” Welsford told ABC.
The Australian Antarctic Division says the international body that manages the Southern Ocean, called the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, opened an annual meeting Monday to discuss protecting the area and responding to the effects of climate change.
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