Windows to the Deep 2019: Exploration of the Deep-sea Habitats of the Southeastern United States

Happy Cephalopod Week!

by Emily Crum, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
June 28, 2019




As we’ve mentioned, 2019 marks the 10th year that the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and partners have collected ocean exploration data from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and this leg of the Windows to the Deep 2019 expedition is our 100th mission in doing so. That all adds up to A LOT of time spent searching for some of our favorite underwater animals – cephalopods!

In honor of #CephalopodWeek (and #OctopusFriday!), below is a collection of some of our most-memorable sightings of these highly intelligent, mobile, and charismatic invertebrates, made over the course of exploring from the Okeanos. Enjoy!


Ghostly Octopus

Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Hohonu Moana. Download larger version

During the first dive of the 2016 Hohonu Moana: Exploring Deep Waters off Hawaiʻi expedition to explore on the northeast side of Necker Island at a depth of 4,290 meters (2.67 miles), the Deep Discoverer remotely operated vehicle encountered this remarkable little octopod sitting on a flat rock dusted with a light coat of sediment. The appearance of this animal was unlike any published records and was the deepest observation ever  for this type of cephalopod.

This animal was particularly unusual because it lacked the pigment cells, called chromatophores, typical of most cephalopods, and it did not seem very muscular. This resulted in a ghostlike appearance, earning the octopus the nickname in the popular media of “Casper,” like the friendly cartoon ghost.


Chromatophore Color Show

Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Windows to the Deep 2018. Download larger version (mp4, 30.3 MB).

Unlike “Casper,” this squid, seen while exploring an intercanyon ridge offshore North Carolina during the Windows to the Deep 2018 expedition, is equipped with color-changing cells called chromatophores. Cephalopods, including squid, octopods, and cuttlefish, are some of the few animals that are able to change color. Movement of muscles surrounding these elastic pigment sacks causes them to expand (revealing more color) or retract (less color). Cephalopods use color changing to communicate with potential mates, possibly to warn predators, and to camouflage and disguise themselves.


Gulf of Mexico Dumbo Octopus

Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Download (mp4, 9.3 MB)

During the Gulf of Mexico 2014 expedition, while scaling the steep slope of a wall along the central part of the West Florida Escarpment in search of deep-sea coral habitats, we encountered this fan favorite – a cirrate, or “dumbo” octopod. The common name for this octopus comes from the fins on the sides of the body, reminiscent of the large ears on the flying elephant in the Disney cartoon.

This cirrate belongs to the genus Grimpoteuthis, but to be certain of the species identity, we would have had to collect it (and we didn’t). In the video, the octopus is seen coiling its arms into tight spirals, a posture that had not been observed previously (and which later earned this octopus the additional nickname of “croissant octopus”). This observation served as a good example of the fact that every time we get a chance to explore the deep sea, we find something new and unexpected.


Twisted Squid

Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico 2018. Download larger version (mp4, 37.9 MB).

Described by our resident cephalopod expert as “probably the most bizarre squid I’ve ever seen,” we encountered this unusual squid while exploring an unnamed mound at a depth of ~850 meters (2,790 feet) during the Gulf of Mexico 2018 expedition. At first, none of the observers on board or ashore could even remotely tell what it was. It looked vaguely like a sea cucumber, a strange jellyfish, or perhaps even a comb jelly. However, as Deep Discoverer approached it, and the animal rotated slowly in front of the camera, it became obvious that it was a squid with its arms folded back in what may be a defensive posture, but to such an extreme degree, it had lost its squid-like appearance.


Perfect Timing (for #OctopusFriday)

Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Mountains in the Deep: Exploring the Central Pacific Basin. Download (mp4, 20.7 MB)

During the first dive of the Mountains in the Deep: Exploring the Central Pacific Basin expedition, the team encountered this colorful little octopus, just in time for #OctopusFriday! Cephalopods such as octopods and squids are mollusks, which means they are related to gastropods or snails -- the difference is that unlike some other mollusks that have an external shell, cephalopods have an internal shell, which allows them to move around more readily (and often very rapidly).