A deep-sea cucumber nicknamed the “headless chicken monster” has been spotted in the Southern Ocean for the first time.
The species of benthic sea cucumber is officially called "enypniastes eximia", but it’s been given the playful nicknames of "headless chicken fish", "headless chicken monster," and the "Spanish dancer." We’re really not sure where that last name came from, but the first two seem right on the nose.
Unlike most sea cucumbers, which live their lives on the seafloor ambulating with their feet-like tentacles, the headless chicken monster has a webbed swimming structure that it uses to propel itself off of the ground and into ocean currents where it can travel for half a mile before falling back down again.
It also looks like the waddle of a chicken, hence the name.
Enypniastes still spends most of their time on the ocean floor sucking up sediment with their tentacles and placing it in their mouths, filtering out microscopic organisms. The creature has been compared to an ocean-going vacuum that constantly keeps the seafloor clean.
Little else is known about their habits as they live so deep under the ocean’s surface.
Previously this species had been seen floating around the Gulf of Mexico, but this is the first time researchers have seen it in the Southern Ocean just off the coast of Eastern Antarctica. The footage was made by the Australian government’s Antarctic division for commercial long-line fishing using undersea cameras.
“Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world,” Australian Antarctic division program leader Dr. Dirk Welsford told CTV News.
“Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of seafloor that can withstand this type of fishing and sensitive areas that should be avoided,” he added.
Data from the voyage as well as the incredible footage seen here will be presented at the annual meeting of Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The meeting started yesterday in Hobart, Australia and will span 10 days of discussion regarding Antarctic marine conservation in the face of global climate change.