Deep-sea researchers led by Robert Ballard (best known for his 1985 discovery of the Titanic wreckage) have caught a rare, extended look at an uncharacteristically jumbo dumbo octopus, with the aid of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in the unlit depths of the Caribbean sea.
"You know, lots of times you'll just see a glimpse of an octopus, or one will go by," one of Ballard's colleagues can be heard saying in the video above. "To be able to just focus on it like this and stay with it is just exceptional."
Here's SciAm's Katherine Harmon Courage – an octopus expert, herself – on what it is we're seeing here:
The Dumbo is a cirrate octopus, a type of deep-sea octopus that has thin strands (cerri) that extend from the bottom side of its arms along with the suckers. Its substantial fleshy web is responsible for this genus's other nickname, the umbrella octopus. There are more than a dozen different species in the genus. They live in many places around the globe and can survive at depths up to (or down to) several thousand meters below sea level.
The team aboard the Nautilus uses red laser dots to estimate the size of objects it sees in the ROV's video feed. And this Dumbo proved to be a big one. It was estimated to be a whopping meter long—a good five times the size of an average Dumbo.
Ballard and his team have spent the summer aboard the research vessel The Nautilus on an expedition with the Corps of Exploration. You can follow the team on its adventures, live, through the expedition's website.