Tag Archives: biology

Creature Comparison: Corals and Sponges

Despite being frequently encountered by scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, E/V Nautilus, and other exploration vessels, much is left to learn about corals and sponges. Both are sessile (non-moving) organisms, serve as vital resources for other marine life, and can indicate the health of oceanic ecosystems. Learn more about these fascinating animals below!

Corals

Corals exhibit some plant-like characteristics, but are actually animal relatives of jellyfish and anemones. They are all within the phylum Cnidaria. All corals are classified as either “hard corals” or “soft corals”. Hard corals have a limestone skeleton, and make up the foundation of a coral reef. They can take a rounded, branching, or flat appearance. Soft corals bind together on a softer structure, and can take the shapes of whips, spirals, and trees. Hard corals can grow as much as ten centimeters per year, the same rate of growth as human hair, but most only grow up to three centimeters each year.  Soft corals grow at a rate of two to four centimeters per year. When a coral reef is damaged by a storm, pollution, or by other factors, it may take a significant amount of time before it is able to recover and grow to its former size.

A variety of soft octocorals were found on the East “Wetmore” Seamount near Hawaii at around 2,065 meters deep (6,775 feet). (Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 Laulima O Ka Moana.)

Continue reading Creature Comparison: Corals and Sponges

Weekend Discoveries

This weekend the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer visited Shostakovich Seamount, and began its “Water Column Wonderland” week. Check out some of the unique creatures that live beneath the sea with imagery captured by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer! Continue reading Weekend Discoveries

Tuning into the Musician Seamounts

During their 2015 Hohonu Moana expedition, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer discovered and mapped an unnamed seamount in the Central Pacific Ocean Basin (shown in the image above). The ship and scientists are now returning to this region, “Musician Seamounts”, to conduct additional mapping and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations over two consecutive cruises. These efforts will be focused north of the Hawaiian Islands, close to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM).

Continue reading Tuning into the Musician Seamounts

Living Fossil: Tiny mollusc makes big impression on marine biology world

A February 2017 dive by the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer yielded an exciting discovery. Scientists spotted a live monoplacophoran, a rarely observed type of mollusc that is thought to be the closest living relative of the ancestors of modern day bivalves (e.g. clams and mussels) and gastropods (e.g. snails). Continue reading Living Fossil: Tiny mollusc makes big impression on marine biology world

Discovering the Deep: Exploring Remote Pacific MPAs

On March 25th, the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer wrapped up an exciting cruise to explore the depths of remote Pacific Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). As scientists collected data and made discoveries over the course of the expedition’s 19 dives, the remotely operated vehicles collected amazing images of life in the deep ocean. Continue reading Discovering the Deep: Exploring Remote Pacific MPAs

The Scintillating Sea Life of Pao Pao Seamount

The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer had an amazing dive March 9, 2017 on Pao Pao Seamount, an underwater mountain in the Tokelau Seamount Chain in the South Pacific. Continue reading The Scintillating Sea Life of Pao Pao Seamount

Amazing aphyonid fish!

The NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer has been having an amazing cruise leg with lots of new discoveries. Last night the scientists made another amazing discovery. The scientists observed an aphyonid fish, roughly 10 cm long. This is the first time that this creature has ever been seen alive! 

Aphynoid fish. Never seen alive until today! Image curteousy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer.
Aphynoid fish. Never seen alive until today! Images courtesy NOAA Okeanos Explorer.

Scientists were thrilled to see such an amazing fish! This eel-like fish has been found around 2,000-6,000 meters. The aphynoid fish had transparent skin and reduced eyes. They are known for their unusual reproductive habits.

Be sure to follow the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer for more amazing discoveries!

Deep Discoveries Are Getting Seirios

How little is known about our ocean is a fact many agree on, however scientists are actively working to bridge the gap between the unknown and discovery. Right now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Exploration and Research (NOAA OER) began the third cruise of their current research expedition. Aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) Deep Discoverer and Seirios, scientists are well on their way to meeting their goals for this trip. The area undergoing daily exploration is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the Marianas Trench National Monument (MTMNM) in the western Pacific. The latter area is under NOAA’s protection, based on inferences that there may be unique features within its depths. Gathering baseline data and learning more about what these areas contain will enable effective conservation initiatives.

Continue reading Deep Discoveries Are Getting Seirios

Sea Star of the Show

Scientists on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer were thrilled to see a species of sea star alive for the first time in history. The six-rayed sea star,  Rhipidaster (confirmed over phone by Chris Mah from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History), was found at Supply Reef,  an active submarine volcano within the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  The sea star was last catalogued by scientists over 150 years ago in 1860, when a dead specimen was found. Now, not one, but three of these remarkable sea stars were seen during a June 23, 2016, ROV dive, implying that the species has been living all this time. The fact that this species was seen in an unexpectedly biodiverse region speaks volumes of what else may be awaiting discovery beneath our oceans’ depths. The ship’s mission is far from over.  Participating scientists are excited to see what other unexpected discoveries remain to be revealed!

Okeanos Explorer cruise summary – Exploring the Marianas

The EX1605L1 leg of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer‘s trip to the Marianas was captivating, to say the least! From new species of jellyfish, to hydrothermal vent chimneys, this exploration leg was jam-packed with discoveries.

Okeanos started this cruise leg near Guam, then moved towards the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The Marianas Trench is known as the deepest part of the ocean, at almost 11,000 meters deep! The intention behind this cruise leg was to gather baseline knowledge of the biodiversity and geology of the area. The NOAA team onboard used their remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer, “D2” to explore the area.

As always, the Inner Space Center at URI published those streams in real-time to YouTube and scientists worldwide. Some dives attracted as many as 2,500 simultaneous viewers.

The biology encountered in the Marianas was phenomenal! The cruise leg started off with a six-gill shark sighting at Santa Rosa Reef.

We discovered a wide variety of creatures inhabiting the area:

One of the most enthralling discoveries was a new species of jellyfish! This hydromedusa was found at Enigma Seamount at roughly 3,700 meters:

The Okeanos Explorer also made some great geological discoveries. They explored a newly-discovered hydrothermal vent site boasting one of the highest temperatures recorded in the Marianas region: 339 degrees Celsius. (Most of the deep sea is a chilly 2 degrees Celsius.) The 30-meter chimney base was releasing black “smoke” made up of iron and anhydrite precipitate.

Actively venting hydrothermal vent chimney shrouded in black smoke, and covered with vent animals, including shrimp, crabs, snails, and scaleworms. Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

There were also young lava flows that had created glassy pillow mounds. The area was so new that no animals had yet colonized the area.

That’s a wrap for Leg 1! Come back for more deepwater exploration on June 17th!

For more details about individual dives visit the NOAA Okeanos Explorer website.

Videos and images courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.