A group of scientists using the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, to explore the Channel Islands — an isolated archipelago just 60 miles from Los Angeles, California — had a bit of a surprise earlier this month when the underwater camera attached to E/V Nautilus captured a mysterious purple sea orb that none of the eight scientists on board could immediately identify.
Scientists are discovering new species of flora and fauna every single day, both on land, and in the vast waters covering planet earth, and given that we’ve explored more of outer space than we have the ocean floor, reports the Washington Post, it comes as no surprise that there are still mysterious creatures hiding in the uncharted waters of the world’s oceans. When one of those creatures is caught on a live video stream, and manages to completely baffle a team of eight renowned scientists, however, it makes waves throughout the scientific community.
Such was the case when a team of researchers caught live video footage of a mysterious purple sea orb seemingly floating under a rocky overhang by the Channel Islands off the coast of California on July 18.
The video begins with the camera panning the ocean floor, roughly 5,301 feet (1,616 meters) from the water’s surface. A bright red crab can be seen laying motionless on the rocks, when one of the team suddenly says “do you have that dark purple blob on the left?” “Purple blob?” another team member replies, “Oh… what is that?” “I’m stumped,” says one. “I actually have no idea. I have no idea what that is,” another admits.
As the camera, attached to a remotely operated underwater robot, zooms in on the mysterious orb, the bright purple color is almost neon against the drab background of the ocean floor. Its center is a bright pink, and its surface looks bumpy, almost like a spiky purple sensory ball, or a spherical cluster of quartz crystals. The team decides to collect the mysterious purple sea orb with the suction arm of their robot, in order to study it further.
According to Live Science, once on board the Nautilus, the mysterious purple orb — which is only about two inches (5 centimeter) across — opened to reveal two distinct lobes, which led the scientists to believe that it could perhaps be a species of sea slug called a pleurobranch — an underwater invertebrate of the mollusk family. Though it could take years to determine whether the purple sea orb is a new species or not, the Nautilus Live website says that researchers have reason to believe that it is, at least, a relative unknown species, even if it is a pleurobranch.
“After consulting with on shore scientists, the team thinks it may be a pleurobranch, a close relation to the nudibranch. Currently none of the known species of California deep-sea pleurobranchs are purple, so this could be a new discovery.”
It’s unusual for the Nautilus team to come across wholly unknown creatures during their research, though they have collected samples of other creatures that they believe to be new species before. What happens more often than not, however, is that an organism is found in a place where it wasn’t previously known to inhabit — such could be the case with the mysterious purple sea orb, though it will take a while before scientists determine whether the orb is a new species, or just new to this particular area, says Susan Poulton, a spokeswoman for the E/V Nautilus expeditions.
“Confirming it’s a new species will take considerable months.”
The mysterious purple sea orb has since been sent to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for further analysis, but the researchers collected RNA samples prior to shipping the strange creature off. They also plan to do a DNA analysis on the strange creature.
[Photo by iStock]