Already it’s been a great year in terms of discovering brand new marine life – from a friendly looking octopus to ghostly whales caught on camera that had previously only ever been traced through DNA from their corpses. With the current buzz surrounding ocean exploration, and underwater technology getting better by the dive, it’s no wonder that new species are entering into scientific textbooks faster than scribbled annotations or juvenile doodles. We showcase nine of the most awesome brand new species that you need to know:
The “Casper” octopod
Date discovered: March 2016
Location: Hawaii, Pacific Ocean
Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered what may be a new species of “dumbo” octopod at a depth of 4,290 metres during a deep ocean expedition near Hawaii’s Necker Island. The ghost-like, incirrate octopod (meaning without fins) was the first of its kind to be discovered at such a depth; in other words, it shouldn’t have been that far down – perhaps that explains its blush-pink skin colouration. Scientists say that it could be a number of years before the new species is given a proper name.
Date discovered: February 2016
Location: Southern Red Sea
Russian and Japanese scientists discovered what could be a new species of luminous polyps that light up mud snails like a mobile Christmas decoration. The newly discovered sea hydroids are tiny – about 1.5 millimetres in length – forming what looks like green “fluorescent flashlights”. Like the distantly related freshwater hydra, a sea hydroid or polyp is a life stage of a group of small marine predators called Hydrozoa. So far, fluorescence has only been reported from the hydroids of six species.
New electric fish
Species: Cryptomyrus ona/Cryptomyrus ogoouensis
Date discovered: February 2016
Location: Continental fresh waters of Africa
The discovery of the new species of mormyrid, a “weakly electric” fish endemic to the continental fresh waters of Africa, led to the creation of a new genus containing not one but two new species. Mormyrids emit electric discharges so weak that humans can’t feel them. The fish have highly sensitive receptor cells on their skin, however, allowing them to use those electric discharges for navigation – they detect objects in their way as a distortion of the electric field they produce – as well as for communicating with other mormyrids.
Species: Balaenoptera omurai
Date discovered: DNA samples discovered from dead specimens in 2003; first time discovered alive: 2016
Scientists finally encountered living members of a species of whale known only from old, dead specimens. Shaped like a sleek submarine, with unusual asymmetrical markings, the elusive Omura’s whale has for the first time been documented in photos, videos, and audio recordings. In the 1970s, scientists initially classified eimadaght whales killed by Japanese whalers in the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans as Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni). It wasn’t until 2003 that another team of researchers, examining DNA evidence from the eight whaling specimens and a stranded animal, concluded that the whales actually belonged to a new-to-science species that came to be called Omura’s whale (B. omurai). Up to this year, however, there have been no firsthand observations of living Omura’s whales described in the scientific literature that could shed light on the animals’ behaviour, biology, or ecology; only a handful of unconfirmed sightings.
A new anglerfish
Species: Lasiognathus regan
Date discovered: August, 2015
Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Looking like a hideous sock puppet you’d use to terrify your neighbour’s children with (if normal sock puppets aren’t terrifying enough), Lasiognathus regan is the latest addition to the family Melanocetidae. In size, they range from 30 to 95 millimetres, and are adapted to life between 1,000 to 1,500 metres below the ocean. Just like every other anglerfish, this one carries the typical fleshy “Pixar-light”-cum-fishing rod that dangles over its nose, and resides in the dark depths of the ocean.
Species: Etmopterus benchleyi
Date discovered: 2010; described for first time: December 2015
Location: Pacific coast, Central America
Living almost two kilometres beneath the ocean surface, the all-black ninja lanternshark is one curious find. The species would be near-impossible to see in the murky depths of the ocean if it wasn’t for special organs in its body which produce light. This light, which is a common feature of lanternsharks, is likely used to communicate with other sharks, for camouflage and perhaps to attract prey. It likely feasts on small fish and crustaceans that – due to the shark’s ninja-like concealed appearance – presumably have no idea what is consuming them.
Species: Phyllopteryx dewysea
Date discovered: February 18, 2015
Location: Coast of Western Australia
While researching the two known species of seadragons as part of an effort to understand and protect exotic and delicate fish, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography made a startling discovery: a third species of seadragon. Often confused with seahorses – who are aesthetically alike, and similar in size – seadragons are covered in strange appendages that help them to blend into their backgrounds. Scientists believe that Phyllopteryx dewysea inhabits deeper waters than the leafy and common seadragons, due to its red shading that acts as camouflage in the deep depths.
The dusky snout catshark
Species: Bythaelurus naylori
Date discovered: June 2015
Location: Southwest Indian Ridge
Growing to a length of just under half a metre, and living at depths of 90 metres to just under two kilometres below the surface, the dusky snout catshark’s skin appears similar to that of a shrivelled up leather glove.
Species: Xenoturbella hollandorum
Date discovered: February 2016
Looking like a deflated whoopee cushion, and without any brain or eyes, the latest discovery of flatworm has amazed scientists searching the waters in Sweden. With no recognisable face or limbs, their bodies are simply blobs that look more like empty socks than animals, and are wrinkled by muscular folds and propelled by cilia. A mouth opening at one end leads to a gut sack, but there is no anal opening in the back end. They have no digestive system, no excretory system, and no reproductive organs, but they probably don’t worry about that too much because they don’t have brains, either – just a neural network.