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Uploaded:2022-12-16
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Sometimes, Nautilus Live’s remotely operated vehicles stumble upon creatures that are not immediately identifiable.

And here, in the waters off the Hawaiian Islands, they encountered an animal whose first impression defied easy categorization. Was this floating black spot an escaped punctuation mark?

Or a rogue music note, making a break for it from some composer’s score? Or was this rippling blob of pure liquid darkness something…else, entirely? [[ ♪♪ INTRO ♪♪ ]] The creature eventually revealed itself to be a thing called a pelican or gulper eel. While many animals are capable of making themselves look larger than they are, this resident of the marine realm is especially good at distorting its shape and hiding its eel-like form.

Until it opens its jaws, releasing the water it had used to inflate the pelican-like pouch from which it takes its name, and folding them inward like the ribs of an umbrella. It may be difficult to reconcile the comical proportions of this deep sea eel with its shadowy coloration – like discovering a goth Muppet in the ocean’s depths. But, somehow, the pelican eel lives with this contradictory appearance.

And the truth is, its skin is not just black – it is ultra-black. It is one of the deep sea fishes whose skin reflects less than half-a-percent of the light that touches it. And while there is little sunlight to be found in the deepest parts of the oceans, there are certainly organisms who make their own light, including the pelican eel itself.

A light organ can be found at the tip of its whip-like tail. But its skin absorbs even the light created by living sources, cloaking this fish in darkness. While some eels revel in the gloom, camouflaging themselves to blend in, others stand out instead.

Like this snipe eel. Caught on video off the coast of central California, the snipe eel’s grayish-white body shines in the ROV’s lights as it slithers through the water. It’s a stark contrast to the pelican eel in color and in the shape of its jaws, which are elongated like the tines of a carving fork or the bill of a shorebird.

And it is, indeed, named for a bird – the snipe is a bird with a long, thin beak. So, for all its differences from the pelican eel, they do have that in common. Those skinny, slender jaws are lined with tiny, hooked teeth used for catching its prey: small swimming crustaceans.

And while perhaps not as dramatic as being gulped by a pelican eel, the jaws of the snipe eel must be effective enough at snaring the antennae of tiny crustaceans, as eels of this family can grow to be a meter to a meter-and-half long. This one, though, seems content to just swim through the haze of marine snow, opening and closing those jaws, until the ROV moves on. Before you go, we just want to say thanks for coming with us on this undersea experiment.

If you’re a fan of our videos, you can support us in a couple of ways. We’ve teamed up with Emily Graslie to create a limited edition art print of some of our beasts. You can get one now over at BizarreBeastsShow.com.

We also still have Bizarre Beasts calendars available for sale at ComplexlyCalendars.com. And we’ll be back on the first Friday of next month with another episode of Bizarre Beasts. [[ ♪♪ OUTRO ♪♪ ]]