Is it a new Pokemon? A character from Sesame Street? Or perhaps it’s just some kid’s toy he or she dropped into the sea?
One could be forgiven for thinking such unusual thoughts about such an impossibly cute, googly-eyed sea creature, when in fact it is an incredibly rare natural sight captured by scientists exploring the ocean floor off of the California coast.
Googly-eyed creature gives scientists a laugh
Scientists manning the exploration vessel Nautilus and its remotely-operated sea vehicles spotted a creature that looks like a cartoon character. In fact, this cute little critter is better known as Rossia pacifica, more commonly called the stubby squid. One look at this little guy and you will understand why the name is actually quite fitting.
“They are funny-looking eyes, but I’ve seen other species of this genus that had eyes that looked very similar,” says Michael Vecchione, a cephalopod expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “People were actually asking whether those eyes were photoshopped in to make it look more like a cartoon or something. No, those are the real eyes. That’s what they look like.”
An interesting thing to note is that, while you may have thought the biologists got it wrong when they said that the creature is definitely a cuttlefish, this cartoonish creature is in fact of the bobtail squid order of cephalopods. These deep-sea creatures are actually more closely related to cuttlefish than they are to squids or octopi.
“It’s not an uncommon species,” says Vecchione. “They get all the way from scuba-diving depths down into the deep sea. If that is all one species, then it’s pretty broadly distributed.”
The eyes serve a purpose beyond being cute and googly
This species spends the majority of its life meandering along the seafloor, utilizing its sticky mucus jacket and burrowing into the seafloor sediment to camouflage, leaving their eyes sticking out to spot prey such as shrimp and small fish. According to Vecchione, this guy’s large googly eyes most likely are very useful in the deep ocean, where light is very scarce.
“In the deep sea there’s not very much light,” he says. “People tend to think that it’s completely dark down there, but there is light that’s produced by other organisms, so having big eyes lets you gather as much light as possible.”
So, it’s this guy’s cute, huge eyes that probably allow it to better locate its next meal. “All cephalopods are predators,” continues Vecchione. “These bobtails, as far as we know, they tend to ambush predators, so they’ll sit either on the bottom or even buried in the bottom and wait for something to come by that they can shoot their tentacles out and grab and pull back into their arms.”
These bobtails are quite extensive as they’ve been seen in the Northern Pacific Ocean from Japan all the way to Southern California. Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have found the deepest example all the way down at 1,300 meters deep (4,260 feet). Other examples have been found as shallow as 300 meters (984 feet).
Despite their extensive experience studying these underwater creatures, it’s quite a laugh to hear these scientists get so excited when they spot the cute, googly-eyed, cuddly-looking creature. “His eyes look painted on!” one exclaims. “He looks so fake!” says another. Either way, let’s hope this guy ends up in the next “Finding Nemo” flick.