Researchers with the exploratory vessel Nautilus are no strangers to the monsters that lurk deep beneath the surface of our oceans, and yet every so often they come across some peculiar animal that really sparks their excitement. A dive earlier this month did just that when the vessel’s remotely operated vehicle came across what one of the crew members called a "muppet".
"Big gulp! The Nautilus team spotted a gulper eel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides)... in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument [PMNM],” wrote the crew on their YouTube channel. “Its pouch-like mouth can inflate in an instant, scooping up much larger prey just like a pelican – and giving it that muppet-like look!"
The incredible footage shows what appears to be an underwater balloon slowly inflating and bobbing along the water column to the tune of researchers exclaiming their joy at the find.
“Whaaat,” they say, before remarking that he “kind of looks like googly eyes.” Of course, there’s also the theory that our slithering friend simply “ate too much.”
This gulper eel was likely a juvenile, though the soft-bodied fish can grow up to 0.9 meters (3 feet) in length – most of which is the tail. Little is known about this species of eel, also called the pelican gulper, other than that it's been found at depths ranging from 750 to 7,625 meters (2,460 to 25,000 feet), and more commonly between 1,200 and 1,400 meters (3,940 to 4,590 feet), in tropical and temperate waters around the world. Also known as umbrella-mouth gulpers, the creatures have expandable stomachs that can accommodate big prey, including crustaceans, fish, and squid. Though they are usually solid black, the big-mouth gulper sometimes has glowing organs. They are thought to breed only once.
Right now, the Nautilus crew is exploring 10 seamounts in PMNM off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island to see how these underwater mountains formed parallel to the Hawaiian Islands ridge, and whether they support “vibrant coral and sponge communities like others in the region,” according to a statement. It is truly a first-time exploratory mission as none of the seamounts have been dredged or dove on using deep-water vehicles, and only one, Naifeh Seamount, has been named.
And if you ever find yourself bored on a Friday night, you can join the live video stream and ask questions of explorers currently aboard the Nautilus.
“What a way to end a watch, right?” the scientists conclude in the video. We couldn’t agree more.