In the deep, dark Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica lies a creature so bewildering and elusive, it hasn’t been filmed for a year.
Behold, the ‘headless chicken monster,’ which has been filmed casually swimming near East Antarctica, the first time it’s been filmed in the region.
Except that it’s not headless, a chicken, or a monster. It’s a sea cucumber.
Deep-sea resident Enypniastes eximia, also known as the ‘headless chicken monster’ to undeniably hilarious scientists, has been filmed in the Southern Ocean.
Researchers caught the unusual species of swimming sea cucumber with a new underwater camera system, which has been developed by the Australian Antarctic Division, part of Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy, for monitoring commercial long-line fishing.
It’s the first time the bright pink creature has been filmed in the Southern Ocean, as it has only ever been caught on camera around the Gulf of Mexico, according to the AAD.
According to a published in Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences, the sea cucumber ranges from 6 to 25 cm (2.3 to 9.8 inches) in length and “swims almost continuously, briefly settling to the seafloor to ingest surface sediments.”
It uses tiny little tentacles to rapidly grasp this sediment from the seafloor to eat, and propels its bulbous, translucent body forward using a webbed veil.
If you’re truly perplexed, here’s another look at the creature, filmed by the Okeanos Explorer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2017 in the Gulf of Mexico — the last time the sea cucumber was filmed.
Some of this footage appears in the new AAD video for context, if some clips look familiar (they’re the frames that read “file vision” in the above video).
So, how did they film it this time around?
The deep-sea cameras that luckily caught this perplexing creature are recording important data for commercial fishing and marine conservation, all of which is sent to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the international body in charge of managing the Southern Ocean.
They’re thrown into the water attached to fishing gear, and can reach depths of up to three kilometres (1.86 miles). So, you’d be right to assume they’d need to be pretty durable.
“We needed something that could be thrown from the side of a boat, and would continue operating reliably under extreme pressure in the pitch black for long periods of time,” Australian Antarctic Division program leader Dirk Welsford, said in a statement.
“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world.”
According to Welsford, other nations such as Chile, France, and the United Kingdom are now also using the durable cameras to survey and monitor the impact of commercial fishing on marine environments.
“Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of sea floor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided,” he said. “It’s a really simple and practical solution which is directly contributing to improving sustainable fishing practices.”
Why is this footage important?
The data collected from the cameras will be presented at CCAMLR’s 10-day annual meeting in Hobart, Tasmania beginning Oct. 22.
With this data and examples of unique marine life like the sea cucumber in hand, Australia’s CCAMLR Commissioner, Gillian Slocum, said Australia will be seeking support for the creation of a new East Antarctic Marine Protected Area at the meeting, as well as supporting two other new Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean.
“The Southern Ocean is home to an incredible abundance and variety of marine life, including commercially sought-after species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for future generations,” Slocum added.
At least some humans have got your bright pink back, little sea cucumbers.