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.
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.
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.
This probably isn't like any lobster you've ever seen. A deep-sea squat lobster hangs out on a coral fan.
A spider crab hitches a ride on a giant isopod in the isopod's burrow tunnel at a depth of 1,788 feet.
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.
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.
Two deep-sea male red crabs are pictured here in an intense duel.