This handsome fella, known as a “Dumbo octopus,” was spotted swimming around the seafloor of the Indian Ocean almost 7,000 meters (22,965 feet) beneath the water’s surface, the deepest ever observation of a living cephalopod.
Marine biologists at Newcastle University in the UK captured the footage in April 2019 using an autonomous baited camera lowered into the Java Trench of the eastern Indian Ocean near Indonesia.
Reported in the journal Marine Biology this week, it’s the first time this genus has been spotted at a hadal depth, the pitch-black regions exceeding 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) that can only be found in oceanic trenches. The team first spotted a Dumbo octopus at a depth of 5,760 meters (18,897), which briefly held the record for the deepest cephalopod observation, but days later, they spotted another one at a depth of 6,957 meters (22,824 feet).
“It was a big surprise, I was never expecting to see that at those depths,” Dr Alan Jamieson, lead study author and senior lecturer in Marine Ecology at Newcastle University, told IFLScience.
"I have done well over 400 lander deployments in the deep sea, and seen a lot of things and very very rarely we do we see octopus at all, and even then we never figured they would go much beyond about 5,000 meters. And here we are, in the space of a week we filmed one at nearly 6,000 meters and one at nearly 7,000 meters,” Dr Jamieson explained.
Before this observation, the deepest in situ photographic evidence of a cephalopod was at 5,145 meters (16,879 feet), which was spotted back in 1971 deep off the coast of Barbados in the Caribbean.
Dumbo octopus (Grimpoteuthis), nicknamed after the big-eared elephant from the 1941 Disney movie, are a genus of cephalopod made up of over a dozen species. The researchers aren’t certain what species this individual was, but they have a strong suspicion it may have been a new species never documented before.
“I would bet a thousand bucks it is a new species given where and how deep it came from. Unfortunately, we did not catch any so we may never know,” continued Jamieson.
“For me, what makes it special beyond its scientific significance is that it shows that firstly, there are still relatively large and conspicuous animals present at the deep depths that we were unaware of, and secondly, that these animal continue to challenge the ridiculous stereotypes of what people think deep-sea animals look like or behave like,” he added.
“This is just a little octopus doing octopus stuff, it just so happens to be doing it 7 kilometers underwater."