Deep Sea Expedition Records Animal Behavior Only Known From 252-Million-Year-Old Fossils

They observed behavior that until now had only ever been seen in Palaeozoic fossils. NOAA/Okeanos Explorer

An expedition to explore the depths of the Pacific Ocean has recorded some incredible animal behavior, including some that had only previously been known from the fossil record. Researchers have been traversing the undersea mountains in the ocean in a bid to record the environment before any major changes occur.

The research team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has spent the last two weeks sailing from American Samoa to Hawaii, and have recorded some truly stunning footage of life thousands of meters below the surface. From mesmerizing jellyfish, adorable octopuses, and fields of deep-sea coral, they have recorded things never before seen by humans – including some rather unusual behaviors.


It might not sound like much – a deep-sea snail feeding on what is effectively the poop of a creature known as a sea lily – but this is a scene that has been playing out for the last 252 million years. Before now, the interaction between these two animals has only ever been seen preserved in fossils dating back to the Palaeozoic era. But it seems that while continents have been shifting and mass extinctions occurring, little has changed on the deep-sea ocean floor.


But it is not only this behavior that caught the marine biologists’ attention. They also captured the incredible moment when a usually fairly inactive brittle star managed to snag itself a swimming squid. But it didn’t stop there, as other brittle stars piled in on the action, with a group of them eventually pulling at the poor unsuspecting cephalopod to see who eventually got the spoils.

The team came across many pelagic holothurians, or deep-sea swimming cucumbers, which look a lot like jellyfish. NOAA/Okeanos Explorer

The plan is to map the entire region, including taking samples of not only the life that is thriving down there, but also rocks and minerals, in order to have a fully detailed picture of an entire ecosystem. The NOAA wants to use this as a baseline, so that it can be used to assess the changes that occur over the next few decades, particularly as the practice of deep-sea mining takes hold and the industry develops.

The carpet of bamboo coral was some of the best deep-sea coral the researchers had ever seen. NOAA/Okeanos Explorer

While scanning the sea floor, they also came across patches of beautiful deep-sea corals. One pocket of bamboo coral was particularly exciting, mainly because it was totally unexpected and incredibly rare. The forest of coral is only the 12th such carpet of the organisms ever discovered, making the Central Pacific Basin even more important than thought.

A Dana squid spotted in the deep, showing off its bioluminescent tipped arms. NOAA/Okeanos Explorer


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  • Palaeozoic Era,

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  • behavior 252-million-year-old fossil