Unusual creatures are often spotted on deep ROV-diving expeditions, but the “Blue Goos” found south-west of the Caribbean island of St Croix recently proved to be a particularly mysterious example.
Scientists piloting the ROV Deep Discoverer from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel Okeanos Explorer speculated about whether the motionless organisms could be an unknown species of soft coral, tunicate or sponge. Unable to collect samples, however, they agreed that they would have to reach out to specialists later for their expert opinions.
On three NOAA Voyages of the Ridge 2022 expeditions between May and September, the research team investigated sections of the North Atlantic, with the seabed footage livestreamed to the public.
As well as exploring the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, Mid-Atlantic Ridge and Azores Plateau, a series of dives were carried out in deepwater areas further south, around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, of which St Croix is one. During the most recent expedition the ROV cameras lighted on multiple Blue Goos, as they were dubbed by one of the researchers, at depths between about 400 and 600m.
Also spotted were a number of “distinctive” fish, including a possible greeneye fish, hatchetfish, beardfish exhibiting feeding behaviour and a white filefish. But what excited the observers most was a rarely observed mating aggregation of at least 35 Conolampas sigsbei sea urchins at a depth of 411m.
Every urchin was sporting ocean debris, consisting of rocks, shells, seaweed and other materials that had been passed up to the apex of its body and described by the scientists as a “debris hat”. Which raised another question for them to consider – why would mating sea urchins feel the need to get together wearing hats?
Findings on all expeditions since 2001 are recorded on the NOAA Ocean Exploration site.
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