Hawaiian waters never cease to amaze ocean explorers, and that was certainly true this past week when a team of scientists discovered what they believe is a new species of octopus near the islands. And that octopus has been dubbed “Casper” by folks on Facebook due to its jelly-like, almost flourescent color.
The group of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were diving about 4,000 meters northeast of Necker Island (Mokumanamana) in the Hawaiian Archipelago with the purpose of getting more information about a ridge near the area. But, to their surprise, the team’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer discovered something else: an unknown octopod at about 4,290 meters below the surface!
According to NOAA, the ROV Deep Discoverer “came across a 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.” That means the team may have discovered a new species near Hawaii.
NOAA writes that deep-sea octopods are actually separated into two groups:
- The cirrate, or finned, octopods (also known as “dumbo” octopods), characterized by fins on the sides of their bodies and fingerlike cirri associated with the suckers on their arms
- Incirrate octopods, which lack both fins and cirri and are similar in appearance to common shallow-water Octopus. This is similar to what you would see in aquariums, such as the Waikiki Aquarium or the Maui Ocean Center.
According to Michael Vecchione with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service – National Systematics Laboratory, “the octopod imaged in detail on the first dive was a member of the second group, the incirrates. A distinctive characteristic was that the suckers were in one, rather than two, series on each arm. 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, leading to a comment on social media that it should be called Casper, like the friendly cartoon ghost. It is almost certainly an undescribed species and may not belong to any described genus.”
Cirrate octopods have been reported to depth of over 5,000 meters. However, the deepest published reports for incirrates are all less than 4,000 meters, according to the NOAA report.
Vecchione and his team plan to investigate the possible new species near Hawaii more and perhaps publish their findings. He writes that “After seeing this observation, I contacted my colleagues Louise Allcock (currently on a British ship near Antarctica) and Uwe Piatkowski (from Germany) and they agreed that this is something unusual and is a depth record for the incirrate octopods. We are now considering combining this observation with some other very deep incirrate observations by a German cruise in the eastern Pacific into a manuscript for publication in the scientific literature.”
Visit this NOAA webpage to see the write-up from the scientists, including a video of the octopod.
So, do we have a new species of octopus on our hands? Scientists will soon determine if that’s the case. In the meantime, here’s to hoping the waters surrounding Hawaii continue to reveal its secrets little by little.