Deep-sea denizen wows scientists with bizarre displays during video encounter

Deep-sea denizen wows scientists with bizarre displays during video encounter

Outdoors

Deep-sea denizen wows scientists with bizarre displays during video encounter

Scientists exploring the depths off Hawaii this week encountered a bizarre-looking denizen that repeatedly changed shape and required several looks before an identification could be made.

The accompanying footage was captured via remotely operated vehicle (ROV) by the crew aboard E/V Nautilus, which is exploring seamounts within the vast Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

“What is it?” a researcher asks, as the footage begins with a view of a distant tadpole-shaped object, which would eventually be identified as a gulper eel.

“Huh?” another scientist wonders, as the camera closes in and it becomes clear that the creature’s enormous jaws and face have ballooned in a defensive posture.

“He’s kind of like googly-eyed,” one of the crew says.

Moments later, the eel balloons its head to a round shape and contorts as though inverting its body before suddenly shrinking into the slender shape of an ordinary snake-like eel and swimming away.

By this time the scientists had identified the creature as a gulper eel, which they nicknamed “Big Gulp” on Twitter.

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“That pouch-like mouth can inflate in an instant, scooping up much larger prey like a pelican!” Nautilus wrote, in reference to a pelican’s ability to expand its throat pouch in order to capture large fish. “This gulper was likely a juvenile, as they can grow up to three feet in length.”

In a later Twitter post the Nautilus team shared two common names for the gulper reel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides): umbrella mouth and pelican eel.

Gulper eels typically reside at depths of between 1,000 and nearly 9,800 feet. The Nautilus footage was captured at almost 4,700 feet.

While the eels can expand their mouths, they’re believed to feed mostly on small crustaceans and mollusks. The wide mouths can serve as nets to capture prey such as shrimp or squid.

–Images are video screen grabs

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