This adorable octopus is named for the ear-like fins with which it swims, making it look like the elephant of the sea.
And now, for the first time, a newborn dumbo octopus was caught on camera thanks to the Deep Atlantic Stepping Stones expedition carried out by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution back in 2005. While exploring the ocean about 1.2 miles below the surface, scientist Tim Shank collected several samples of what appeared to be small, tan golf balls attached to coral reef branches in the Northwest Atlantic.
“With each successive collection, it became apparent that this was some sort of an egg case,” Shank told the science website PhysOrg.
An egg began to hatch soon after it was brought onto the ship, the researchers noted, and they soon realized exactly what the creature was.
“Once the fins were observed while it was still in the bucket, it was clear that it was a ‘dumbo’ octopod,” said Delaware Museum of Natural History curator Elizabeth Shea.
The researchers observed the creature for about two hours before taking MRI scans to study its anatomy. Dumbo octopuses typically live in the ocean at depths between 3,000 and 4,000 meters (about 13,000 feet), according to the Smithsonian, making them elusive to humans and not very widely known. They found that the octopus hatches form its egg fully formed and ready to live independently from infancy.
“The virtual exploration and 3D reconstruction of the internal anatomy of this deep-sea creature was particularly revealing,” zoologist Alexander Ziegler said. “I was impressed by the complexity of the central nervous system and the relative size of fins and the internal shell. However, for me as a zoologist, the most interesting aspect of our discovery remains the close interaction between the dumbo egg and the deep-sea coral host.”