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'Thrilling Discovery': Surprising Sea Creature Spotted in Pacific

Scientists are wondering if it might be a new species.

Tendril-ly, Cthulhu-looking beigeish-pinkish sea creature extends its tentacles in a clump against the dark ocean.
This sea pen was an unexpected find in the Pacific Ocean by the crew of the E/V Nautilus.
E/V Nautilus; video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

I'll admit, I'd never heard of a Solumbellula sea pen until today, when I saw a tweet from the Exploration Vessel Nautilus showing an intriguing tentacle-y creature with a long thin stalk reaching down to the ocean floor. I was immediately enchanted. The Nautilus team called it "a thrilling discovery."

The sea pen made its appearance during a visit by a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, to an unexplored seamount near Johnston Atoll, a remote spot to the west of Hawaii in the Pacific. It was unexpected. This is the first time this animal has been spotted in the Pacific. It's normally found in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The Nautilus came across two examples during the dive.

A video shot at a depth of 9,823 feet (2,994 meters) shows the moment of discovery, along with commentary from excited researchers. "That looks wicked," says one of them after the ROV got a close-up shot of the creature's food-capturing tentacles. For scale, the sea pen's stalk is 6.6 feet (2 meters) long.

Sea pens are filed under cnidarians, a broad group of aquatic animals that includes corals and jellyfish. "Further review of the footage and this sample will help experts determine if this is the first Pacific S.monocephalus or potentially a new species in this ocean basin," the Nautilus team said on YouTube.

The research expedition at Johnston Atoll ran from June 20 to July 13 and was focused on studying the biodiversity of the area. The nonprofit Ocean Exploration Trust operates the ship and streams many of its ROV dives.

E/V Nautilus has lifted the veil on many wonders of the deep, from a rare jellyfish to a delightful "unidentified gelatinous creature." Said the team, "This huge range expansion of Solumbellula in the Pacific Ocean reminds us how important ocean exploration efforts are to understanding this diversity of our planet."