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Gaze upon the ghostly glass octopus, a rarely seen denizen of the deep

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The glass octopus is mesmerizing.


Schmidt Ocean Institute

Over the last month, a team of researchers from the Schmidt Ocean Institute has been exploring the depths of the Pacific Ocean, close to the remote and mostly uninhabited Phoenix Islands, east of Kiribati. The Institute’s ocean adventures routinely uncover some of the great wonders of the deep ocean, like coral reefs as tall as the Empire State Building and this 34-day expedition was no different. 

During the expedition, which recently returned to shore, Schmidt researchers got real lucky. They made two sightings of a rarely seen cephalopod: the glass octopus, Vitreledonella richardi. The transparent marvel has been known to science since 1918, but it is difficult to study because it lives in the depths of the open ocean. Previous studies of the creature have been limited to analyzing specimens retrieved from the guts of predators.

“The ocean holds wonders and promises we haven’t even imagined, much less discovered,” Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of the institute, said in a press release.

The good thing about being friends with a glass octopus is they’re always transparent with you.


Schmidt Ocean Institute

“Expeditions like these teach us why we need to increase our efforts to restore and better understand marine ecosystems everywhere — because the great chain of life that begins in the ocean is critical for human health and well being,” Schmidt said.

The expedition wasn’t just looking for ghostly octopods — it was performing valuable science. The Phoenix Islands comprise one of the world’s largest oceanic coral ecosystems and contain a number of underwater mountain habitats with a diverse array of life. Over 182 hours of exploration were conducted with SuBastian, the Ocean Institute’s underwater robot.

The Ocean Institute also said researchers identified “unique marine behaviours, including crab stealing fish from one another.”

“Looking into these deep-sea communities has altered the way we think about how organisms live and interact on seamounts and how they maintain diversity of life in the deep ocean,” Tim Shank, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which participated in the expedition, said in a statement.

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