Scientists Spent A Month Exploring The Gulf Of Mexico's Deep Sea Habitats — And The Images They Brought Back Are Astonishing

There's an otherworldly, alien world down in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

There's a spectacular, uncharted alien world right off the Gulf Coast, and a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) expedition sought to uncover its secrets.

This past December, a NOAA team, aboard the Okeanos Explorer, conducted the first of three month-long studies of the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico, with the dual aim of exploring the diversity of deep-water habitats and mapping the seafloor. 

Using a mix of remote-operated submersibles (ROVs), and shore-based instruments, the team brought back stunning images of previously unexplored areas. 

Here's a sample of what they found in the inky depths:

Over dozens of dives, NOAA's submersibles brought back images of deep-water creatures that had seldom been observed before.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

Here, the coiled tip of a bamboo coral is pictured growing out of the sediment on the seafloor, thousands of feet below the surface. 

A submersible explores a shipwreck first spotted by an offshore drilling exploration firm in 2002.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

The submersible, Deep Discoverer, conducted a full archaeological survey of the wreck, collecting 3D mosaic images and analyzing the life living on it. NOAA's researchers believe the ship is a merchant vessel dating back to around 1830. 

In this image, you can see a tiny snake star, surrounded by the spiny arms of larger sea stars coiled among the branches of a coral, at a depth of 1,315 feet.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

This probably isn't like any lobster you've ever seen. A deep-sea squat lobster hangs out on a coral fan.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

A spider crab hitches a ride on a giant isopod in the isopod's burrow tunnel at a depth of 1,788 feet.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017

Giant isopods are deep-ocean varieties of pill bugs, and they're found in cold, deep waters all over the planet. The largest specimens have been found to grow over 30 inches long, and weigh in at close to four pounds. 

These two lobsters are completely blind due to their pitch-black surroundings. These ones evidently share a little burrow, but scientists aren't exactly sure why.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

A long-nosed chimera fish drops by one of NOAA's submersibles on a dive. Many of the researchers said this was the first time they've ever seen one.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017.

Two deep-sea male red crabs are pictured here in an intense duel.

Two deep-sea male red crabs, Chaceon quinquedens, go claw-to-claw in an apparent duel for the affections of a nearby female. At least, that’s how we interpreted their behavior.
Two deep-sea male red crabs, Chaceon quinquedens, go claw-to-claw in an apparent duel for the affections of a nearby female. At least, that’s how we interpreted their behavior. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2017
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