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Cute 'dumbo' octopus baby seen on video for the first time

If Dumbo was a tiny ocean-dwelling animal, he would look like this adorable and rare octopus hatchling that stars in a fascinating video.

The hatchling is under an inch long in this photo taken shortly after it left the egg capsule.
Timothy M. Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Deep beneath the ocean waves lurks a creature so cute it's been compared to the big-eared flying elephant from Walt Disney's 1941 classic "Dumbo." 

Dumbo octopuses sport a pair of rounded fins that resemble the animated elephant's famously large ears. They are also rare and mysterious since they live at deep-sea depths on the ocean floor. 

An international team of scientists is excited about the first video ever captured of a dumbo hatchling. It's super cute, but it's also a welcome window into the birth and development of these elusive creatures.

Researchers brought the egg capsule, which was attached to a branch of coral, on board a vessel exploring off the East Coast of the US in 2005. A remotely operated underwater vehicle had collected the coral sample, which came from a depth of 6,600 feet (2,000 meters). 

In the video taken on the research vessel, you can see the freshly hatched baby wiggling around. The team released the video and published a paper on its findings this week in the journal Current Biology.

"Witnessing the hatching upon its emergence from its egg case was a one of a kind observation, a watershed moment that casts the first light on a completely unknown portion in the life cycle of dumbo octopods in the deep sea," says Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution deep-sea biologist Tim Shank, a co-author of the study.  

According to the Delaware Museum of Natural History, observations of the critter and an MRI investigation of its anatomy showed "that the hatchlings are fully formed from the start, with all the features required for fin swimming, visually and chemically sensing their environments, and capturing prey."

The research paper concludes by highlighting the importance of conserving the octopuses' natural habitat and protecting the deep-sea coral that hosts the eggs.