Ocean Explorers May Have Accidentally Discovered a Ghostly New Species of Octopus

March 7, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Ghostlike octopus discovered by NOAA on February 27
Photo credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research/Hohonu Moana

Some have given it the nickname “Casper.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) completed its first operational dive on February 27.  The Okeanos Explorer’s 2016 season began with a dive to a depth of 4,290 meters (14,000 feet) northeast of Necker Island, located near Hawaii, to obtain baseline information about the ocean floor between Necker Island and Necker Ridge — a narrow feature that extends over 644 kilometers (400 miles).

Although their primary objective was to collect geological samples, the biggest find of the day was an adorable, ghost-like octopus that may be a never-before-seen species.

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The team was using Deep Discoverer — a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) — to collect samples of the seafloor when it came across a flat rock covered in sediment with a small, white octopus sitting on top of it.

“The appearance of this animal was unlike any published records, and was the deepest observation ever for this type of cephalopod,” the team announced.  

Generally, deep-sea octopods are separated into two distinct groups: cirrate or finned octopods, that have fins on the sides of their bodies and fingerlike cirri on their arms, and incirrate, those that lack both fins and cirri and are quite similar in appearance to common shallow-water octopuses.

Researchers believe this octopus belongs to the incirrate group because it has a distinctive characteristic whereby the suckers are in one row on each arm, rather than two.  

However, the animal is unusual because it lacks pigment cells, called chromatophores, which are typical of most cephalopods.  Also, it is not very muscular.  These two strange features are what gives it a ghost-like appearance and people on social media have been commenting that it should be called Casper, like the friendly ghost.  

Not only that, this would be the deepest report of an incirrate octopus on record — previous records were all above 4,000 meters.  

The team will now go through the process of proving that this octopus is, in fact, a new species.  A very cute one too, I might add.

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