Scientists have discovered a potentially new species of the adorable “dumbo” octopus in a very unique place. At more than 4 miles (6,957 meters) under the Indian Ocean, the newly discovered octo was found at the deepest depths of any cephalopod has been observed. The discovery—published in the journal Marine Biology Tuesday—signals that there’s still so much to learn about these creatures and the deep sea. It’s a reminder that not all deep-sea animals have spiky teeth and weird bioluminescence. Some are pretty damn cute.
Marine biologist Alan Jamieson didn’t get to see the octopus firsthand when he launched into the depths of the Indian Ocean back in April 2019. Seated in his submarine, Jamieson spent most of his day exploring the seafloor. There, he saw bony cusk eels, some prawns, sea anemones, and even a potentially new species of sea snail. It wasn’t until he returned to the surface and reviewed footage from cameras sent down separate from the sub that he realized the research crew had captured images of this deep sea creature.
“First and foremost, you’ve got your professional hat on,” Jamieson, who conducted this research for his deep-sea research group Armatus Oceanic, told Earther. “The second hat is, ‘this is so cool .’ It’s adventurous, interesting. It’s bizarre . You start to see all these species you’ve only ever filmed and photographed, and suddenly you’re looking at them through a window, alive . It’s just wonderful.”
This was the second “dumbo” octopus—a genus of cephalopods with ear-like fins above their eyes—the team of scientists had observed during the trip. The other sighting took place 3.6 miles (5,760 meters) underwater. Previously, the maximum depth researchers observed them was 3.2 miles (5,145 meters) as part of an expedition 50 years ago off the coast of Barbados. Because the researchers witnessed these octopuses at even deeper levels and in the Indian Ocean, Jamieson’s money is on this being an entirely new species. That can’t be confirmed, however, without gathering the specimen for further analysis, which this team wasn’t equipped to do.
“You can see them and bring them to the surface dead,” Jamieson said. “You can’t be in front of it without one of you being dead.”
Other expeditions have recorded octopi in this genus before in other parts of the ocean. Researchers have captured high-quality footage of these cuties zooming around the depths of Monterey Bay. If you want to overload your heart with cuteness, check out what these octopuses look like as newborns. Yes, baby “dumbo” octopuses are even better than the adults.
The discovery of a dumbo octopus at these depths is amazing and expands the potential range for cephalopods to 99 percent of the seafloor. Marine wildlife as a whole is facing an ecological crisis, though. Not even the depths of our oceans are safe from humans. Plastic pollution is seemingly everywhere these days, including the deep seas. Jamieson imagines that the octopi they saw already have measurable amounts of pollution in their bodies, a fate that other deep sea creatures are living with.
It’s hard to know how resilient deep sea animals are to the pressures their ecosystems are facing from climate change as well. It could be that “dumbo” octopi are just barely managing to support themselves in this environment, Jamieson said, and any changes could be catastrophic. However, scientists just don’t know yet. They’re still constantly learning about what hides in our oceans. The fear is that human destruction will reach them before scientific discovery.
“We’re polluting animals we’ve never even found yet,” he said.