With commentary worthy of a World Cup match, researchers aboard the American research vessel Okeanos Explorer narrate the incredible moment an Atlantic barracuda gets totally owned by a creature burrowed below the seafloor.
“It’s a race to the burrow,” announces one of the spectators. “The snail is winning…”
Dramatic music ensues before the benthic fish strikes the large barracuda at lightning speed, followed by a flurry of sediment.
“Oh! Oh, geez!” shout the startled viewers.
At first, scientists had a hard time identifying the burrow-dwelling fish, noting it resembled both an offshore toadfish and a wrymouth. Freezing the video milliseconds before the attack highlighted three light-emitting organs known as photophores, helping identify the fish as an Atlantic Midshipman (Porichthys plectrodon). These creatures are “sit-and-wait” ambush predators like anglerfish, and they have some of the fastest strikes of any fish.
“This remarkable video footage gives us the rare opportunity to document a predation event in the deep sea, while highlighting the trophic links between animals that live in the water column with those that live on the seafloor,” said NOAA in a statement. Researchers were able to identify the barracuda using its big eye and long straight jaws. They note the fish looked like it was damaged before being eaten, with a frayed mucus coat and strip of skin dragging along the side of its body.
The video was captured using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Deep Discoverer during a dive exploring the wall of an unnamed submarine canyon 40 kilometers (25 miles) off Pea Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The ROV began its dive at 511 meters (1,677 feet) deep and scaled a canyon ridge, reaching a depth of around 328 meters (1,076 feet). The team went to five “seep” locations where hydrocarbon-rich fluids like methane and sulfide escape from the seafloor. These places are important for deep-sea ecosystems as they fuel communities that rely on bacteria to convert chemicals to food, a process called chemosynthesis. Less than a decade ago just two seeps were identified. Today, more than 500 have been recorded. Documenting the size of these bubbles allowed scientists to estimate how much methane they retain – larger bubbles hold methane longer and transport it further throughout the water column.
Scientists collected samples, including a sediment sample with a snail and two quill worms and water samples for environmental DNA analysis. The next NOAA deep-sea expedition is scheduled to start July 12, navigating from Norfolk, Virginia to Hamilton, Bermuda.
To see some more of the weird and wonderful deep-sea fish spotted on the expedition, click here.