Earlier this week, and at more than 2,700 feet underwater by the Great Barrier Reef in the north, a remote-operated vehicle called the SuBastian entered a gaze with a burrito. That’s what the creature looks like from afar: an unroasted cylinder that is strangely suspended in the twilight of the ocean, like treats brought out from Triton.
Over the waves, in the control room of a research vessel at the Schmidt Institute of Oceans, pilot Jason Rodriguez and co-pilot, Kris Ingram, navigated SuBastian closer to the unidentified floating object, which crashed Go and wiggle a few times before hitting focus. The animal was as long as a breakfast sausage, with thin, slab-like fins and a large looking eye.
“What’s on earth?” Dhugal Lindsay muttered, who was sipping his morning coffee in his office at the Japan Sea-Earth Science and Technology Agency, or Jamstec, in Kanagawa. Dr. Lindsay, a marine biologist, Zoomed in to report a YouTube live broadcast in which a 16-tentacle jellyfish and an Apolemia siphonophore, a breeding colony, were discovered. like a chain of magic lamps. Dr. Lindsay’s Zoom feed is rather fuzzy, and the burrito creature at first seems to be a mystery.
The day before, SuBastian discovered a reef taller than the Empire State Building, causing lead scientists to be swept up in constant interviews in another room. So Valerie Cornet, a master’s student in marine biology at James Cook University, joined in to tell the story with Dr. Lindsay. Just before the creature wiggled off the screen, Miss Cornet speculated it might be an ink.
Meanwhile, at around 10:30 pm in Washington, DC, Mike Vecchione is getting ready for bed. A zoologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Dr. Vecchione followed the SuBastian dive but called it a day when the feed malfunctioned. Suddenly, he recalled, a phone buzzed with a message from a colleague, biologist Christopher Mah: “Mike Vecchione, they’re calling me on squid phone.”
When Dr. Vecchione carefully examined the photo, he knew exactly what it was: Spirula spirula, or sheep horn squid. According to Jay C. Hunt, a biologist at East Stroudsburg University, Spirula is the only living squid with a curled inner shell, which sits neatly under the flesh of its tail. The squid can also emit lime green light from a large shoreline, which is also located behind it.
Dr. Vecchione and other experts were surprised. For many times, biologists and seafarers have stumbled upon Spirula’s miniature white shells stuck on coasts around the world. But no one has ever seen the animal live in its natural habitat.
“It’s this mysterious animal,” said Rebecca Helm, a biologist at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, one of the scientists excitedly tweeting about Spirula. “It’s like a pixie-sized version of giant squid.”
Chong Chen, a biologist at Jamstec, said, “This may indeed be the first time a live animal has been caught on camera in its natural habitat.”
While seeing Spirula may be the first scientific one, it did not make a strong first impression on the researchers on board. Ms. Cornet said: “We saw squid bobtail and dumbo octopus where we said, ‘Wow, this is the cutest thing. “This one looks weird and looks at us with strange eyes.”
Perhaps more surprising than the creature’s appearance was its strange location. Scientists have always assumed that Spirula swims with the head down and the bottom filled with gas in the air. When Dr. Vecchione captured Spirulas living in drag nets and dropping them in the cold water on board, “living type” squid always emerged, he said.
This hypothesis makes sense; After all, the squid’s air-blocking shell made it float like a nautilus fish. But it raises another question. Deeper organisms usually direct their photophores downwards, disguising their shadows from predators lurking below. On the other hand, shining a blue ray of light into the sky, had no clear purpose. “This is uncommon and also makes no sense,” said Dr. Vecchione.
But the Spirula captured on the camera is clearly pointing upwards, suggesting that its downward coast is most likely used for a chemical reaction. “This makes sense,” said Dr. Vecchione.
While the shoreline mystery may now be resolved, one Spirula on the right appears to have a balance problem, with the squid’s body mass precariously balanced on its floating crust. . “When you design an ROV, you don’t put the heavy stuff on top and the floating stuff on the bottom,” says Dr. Lindsay.
Videos can provide clarity. Dr Hunt said, analyzing the fin’s waveforms could shed light on how the ink manages to hang immobile in the water. “Usually we can see the breath coming through its funnel, but not in this case,” he said. “This shows that being perfect is this little guy’s primary defense.”
All the signs indicate that Spirula, or at least this particular Spirula, is quite shy. Unlike other free cephalopods, the squid holds its arms in a cone. Dr. Vecchione says this pose allows the squid to pull its head inside the mantle and seal it, like a turtle. He speculates that this may protect squid from small predators like vertebrates, which will “chew anything they can.”
Near the end of the video, Spirula sprayed water over her cloak to escape into the final abyss – also remarkably quick for a creature shaped like a long potato. Dr. Hunt was surprised by the animal’s flight speed, arguing that a gas-filled shell might not respond well to rapid pressure changes.
But Spirula’s speed did not discourage Dr. Vecchione. “It’s an squid after all,” he said. “It has the ability to do things like ink.”
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