Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Deep Sea Hawaii CONTINUES!! Okeanos Explorer Leg 3 BEGINS!!

So, after a bit of a delay on Friday (the 18th) due to some technical issues, the Okeanos Explorer promptly got underway to begin LEG THREE of its Hawaiian Islands Expedition! Exploring Deep-Sea Coral Communities! (here

Previous posts include: 

Leg 3 has only been active for 4 days (including today) and already they've seen some pretty fantastic invertebrates!
1. This awesome blue comb jelly.
On Sunday (Aug 30th), the ROV was in relatively shallow water and spotted this gorgeous blue/purple comb jelly (ctenophore) at about 450 m off South Point, Hawaii (big island).  George Matsumoto of MBARI has described it as Euplokamis-like..

Lasers below are 10.0 cm apart..so it was a decent sized beast...

2. Was that a NEW STARFISH?
So, this happened only Monday.. The ROV was exploring McCall Seamount at around 2700 meters and came upon this beast..

So, the amazing thing about this is, I didn't recognize it! If you wanted to learn what it was like to "discover" new species along with the scientists??  THIS IS WHAT THAT IS LIKE.
Unfortunately, they couldn't collect it for various reasons..but I'm hopeful an example will turn up so I can eventually confirm its status and learn more about it... and eventually give it a name...

But as you can see its quite soft and its body sort of flutters in the current! 

3. Coral Predators GALORE! 
So, for years we've been watching sea stars and even sea urchins feed on deep-sea corals on the Atlantic Okeanos Explorer video streams. Earlier this year I published a paper on several of these starfish species, including Evoplosoma and Hippasteria.

The Hawaiian islands region has many, MANY corallivorous starfish species. I've discussed a few of them here.  Its interesting to see how much more regularly we are observing predation by sea stars (mostly Hippasteria muscipula but several species are observed) on these octocoral colonies.

What we're also seeing is predation on corals by cidaroid sea urchins!!  We've seen this by the white Atlantic urchin Echinus in the Atlantic, but observations of feeding on corals hasn't been seen by Okeanos in the Pacific before! 

If indeed that is what they are doing in these pictures...

4. Deep Sea crustaceans! 
This deep-sea hermit crab has a commensal sea anemone instead of a shell! 
Deep Sea balanoid barnacles! at 2700 meters! 

5. More orange echinoderms than you can throw a stick at! 
This cool biscuit star: Sphaeriodiscus ammophilus

Based on a tip by ophiuroid expert Sabine Stohr, this ophiacanthid brittle star is likely Ophioplinthaca!
and another nice shot of Hippasteria muscipula which I described only last year (here) What's interesting about it? the disk is HUGELY swollen with water!  A big difference from seeing them preserved in a bucket!!!

What discoveries will next week's expeditions bring???

Friday, August 21, 2015

Okeanos Round up! Last week in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument!

the red stalked crinoid  Proisocrinus ruberrimus
So, sadly, the Okeanos Explorer's first leg has come to a close as it has concluded its survey of the 
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the ship has gone into port at Pearl Harbor to prepare for the third leg of the research expedition starting August 28th, surveying the main Hawaiian Islands and Geologists Seamount!! YOW!

What sorts of COOL inverts did we see in the last 7 days?? Here are the ones that caught my eye...
1. Benthic Ctenophores on Sponges Galore! 
Many of you know that my blog showcases some of the most extraordinary examples of invertebrate diversity that I can find. I have talked before of my love of benthic comb jellies (aka ctenophores), which most people, if they experience them at all, encounter them in shallow water (here). 

Long story short: these are similar to jellyfish, most are swimmers, but some are specialized to living on the sea bottom or other substrates.

They occur in the deep-sea but are VERY poorly known there. Here are what are undoubtedly NEW observations. Possibly even a new species of these animals living on glass sponges between 1000-2000 meters!

Here's a tight shot showing only a few with their tentacles extended. These tentacles were actually measured by the folks on the ROV. They can get to be OVER A METER (3 feet!) LONG!

2. The Rare(ly encountered) starfish Pythonaster sp.!
Exciting to me was the discovery of one of the "holy grail" of deep-sea starfishes: A species in the genus Pythonaster! NOT PREVIOUSLY KNOWN FROM HAWAII!  Or for that matter, this far in the Pacific!!

We have seen a different species of Pythonaster in the Atlantic on previous Okeanos cruises (here), but those were known from older records. Not only were these new, but now we had pics of them FEEDING on a sponge!!    AMAZING!
NOTHING has been known about the biology of Pythonaster. In one picture, we now have MORE information on its biology than we've known since this animals' description in 1885!!!

Worldwide, there are less than maybe 10 specimens of this genus known!

3. A bizarre community of deep-sea tunicates, barnacle plates and...????
So, the last day the ROV from Okeanos Explorer was deployed they investigated a channel between west Nihoa and West Pac where the water current was quite strong.

They encountered sponges (of course!) but curiously also a number of other bizarre members that formed an unusual deep-sea community.
This community was made up of tunicates (Chordata-the same phylum to which humans belong!) aka sea squirts. These are filter feeders but not one of the usual species of tunicates one expects to find between 1000 and 2000 meters!!

These are those brown potato shaped things in the picture above. Note how they are all clustered together in neat, almost ordered serial rows.

Also observed were these odd little yellow blobs, which formed long, reticulating networks. It was unclear what these were. Maybe more tunicates?? sponges??  
But they were ALL OVER the place!!  see all those long drippy yellow threads?? THOSE were all of those little yellow/gold blobs...

One other part of the mysterious west Nihoa community (and indeed all over the place): The  mystery of the dead barnacle graveyard??

Basically, it came down to the act that we were seeing these giant barnacle plates ALL OVER the bottom in HUGE abundance. Here's a close up, but you can see them above in the pictures.

FINALLY the Okeanos Explorer team discovered them!! They were apparently giant deep-sea forms in the genus Chirona, But they were nowhere NEARLY as abundant as they were turning up in the barnacle "mounds". What happened?? Weird.

Some animals in the deep sea are purple.

A purple squat lobster. Not sure if they got a name to it.
The stoloniferous octocoral Clavularia.
The gorgonian Victogorgia sp.
and this cute little jellyfish, which thanks to George Matsumoto at MBARI I know is called Crossota millsae!!

5. Nice Shots of the Slime Star Hymenaster!  But which one? 
I have written about the oh-so lovely and unusual members of the Pterasteridae before (here). And we see them in deep-sea habitats all over the world.

But in the Indo-Pacific there is a HUGE expanse with MANY, many more species to be considered!

Here is a species observed by Okeanos Explorer just a few days ago! The hole, which opens and closes is called an osculum.

and thanks to Steve Hornik(@shornik ) this VIDEO!
I've studied Hymenaster in Hawaii before. This one, from an expedition I was on in 2001, was identified as Hymenaster pentagonalis, described by Walter K. Fisher in 1905
It emits a healthy defensive mucus!!
So, what is this purple one???
Or this ONE??  Deep Sea MYSTERIES!!???

Many other cool critters seen-but I leave you with an assortment of weird glass sponges....
What will the next leg of the Okeanos Expedition discover??

Friday, August 14, 2015

This Week in Okeanos! A digest of Hawaiian deep-sea invertebrates seen over the last week!

Over the last few days, the R/V Okeanos Explorer has deployed its Remotely Operated Vehicle, the Deep Discoverer into some of the deepest waters in the Hawaiian Islands region, specifically in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument!  Many of the study areas have never been studied before.

The Okeanos Explorer's primary objective here is to map and document the communites which form the habitat and primary fauna of this region. And so, a majority of their time goes towards studying the many, MANY deep-sea sponges and corals which make up these habitats. 

The main page for the NOAA Hawaiian Expedition can be found here.

Their LIVE feed can be found here.

I've been tweeting the LIVE stream of the Okeanos' various discoveries and last week I documented the many, MANY different types of glass sponges seen by the Okeanos Explorer

This week I thought I would just digest some of the various discoveries made which I thought warranted a place in today's post! Although most of the screengrabs here are mine, I am ETERNALLY grateful to the Facebook Underwater screengrab group! 

1. Is this the world's LARGEST KNOWN SPONGE??? (Glass sponge or otherwise??)

Here was a pic of the ROV Deep Discoverer NEXT to the sponge. it was approximately 3.5 m long X 2.5 m tall, that's about 11 feet x 8 feet LONG!
Sponges and corals are known as "ecosystem engineers" because they play host to numerous other species and essentially become huge hubs of biodiversity. Many, MANY other animals live on these sponge colonies: brittle stars, starfish, squat lobsters, etc. the list goes on...

SOMETIMES, the community is a little more permanent than others. Here's a shrimp which lives inside this "glass cage" sponge. This species mates and lives inside the sponge for the rest of its life...

This story, of the "Venus flower basket" which is a pretty obvious deep-sea invertebrate "love story" is seen in the genus Euplectella. One can find more accounts of this story all over, such as here. 

2. Starfish FEED on glass sponges!
You wouldn't think there would be much on a glass sponge to eat, being composed primarily of... glass (see last week) but there IS that syncytium, the weird cytoplasm like stuff that covers the glass skeleton and a starfish has gotta eat.. 

Some goniasterid that is not clearly identifiable..
A "wolf pack" of Henricia sp. approaching on and feeding on this fallen glass sponge..

3. There are multiple species of deep-sea starfish which feed on corals too! 
One of my primary research interests and one of my favorite things to watch are deep-sea goniasterid starfish feeding on corals. I worked on these for my PhD and have described several new species of these animals (here) and here.  and even here

In Hawaii, there are several species of coral-devouring sea stars. Many of them display a fairly prominent border of spines around their body...

Calliaster pedicellaris
Evoplosoma, probably E. forcipifera
and a new species I described last year, Hippasteria muscipula

4. Special Weird Deep-Sea Treats! The Bottom-living or "dandelion" siphonophore!!
A siphonophore is a gelatinous animal that is a sort of colonial jellyfish closely related to the Portuguese man-o-war. Siphonophores are best known as swimmers in the pelagic or open ocean. In the deep-sea, there are some species which live near the sea bottom and float above the surface, dragging their tentacles along the surface..
If the weird beast above seems kinda familiar, you may have seen another species of this "dandelion" siphonophore in other news....such as this one from Africa which has been making the news rounds as a weird "spaghetti monster"

The mystery of the million barnacle plates! The bottom was littered with millions of barnacle plates, but WHERE ARE THE BARNACLES??
 We did see a few, but were they even the same species??

5. and my personal favorite..a sea urchin called Aspidodiadema hawaiiensis! A strange sea urchin that looks like the spider robot from Johnny Quest! I've mentioned these before in my post about HURL's deep-sea Hawaiian urchins
These seem to move around via a combination of their tube feet and these long bowed spines which seem to extend to the surface.
Also of interest are the beak-like structures near the base. These are called pedicellariae and given how large and prominent they are, I would speculate that they are extended for defense. Perhaps to protect the tube feet??
I also love these animals because they resemble the "robot spy" from Johnny Quest! 
And yeah, post this week was a bit late. Laptop in the shop! More next week!