What Was This Bizarre Sea Creature Caught On An Oil Rig Camera?

Written by on July 4, 2019

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With only about 5% of our oceans explored, it is fairly safe to say that there’s a great deal in there that we just don’t know about. In April 2012, a video from an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico spotted something that spread across the Internet like wildfire. The video was taken about 1500 m (5000 ft) below the surface, fueling everyone’s vivid imagination about the organism’s identity.

Speculation about what the camera spotted was wild. While some thought it may have been a whale placenta, others wagered it was the mutant spawn of Cthulhu or something equally ridiculous. The whale placenta scenario was also unlikely, as there are too many nutrients for it to have drifted down that far without being gobbled up by scavengers. 

Soon after the video’s release, marine biologists identified the creature as an enigmatic jellyfish called Deepstaria enigmatica, first described by F.S. Russel in 1967. Of course, it doesn’t look much like the types of jellyfish with which we are most familiar. If you ask someone off the street to draw a jellyfish, you’ll probably get a smallish puffy, inverted saucer-shaped bell with long, flowing tentacles. D. enigmatica is quite different.

First of all, what kind of self-respecting ferocious deep sea monster could ever be confused with whale placenta? For the most part, it looks like a helpless brown sheet drifting at the mercy of movement in the water. But then, the gonads appear. These large, bulbous structures are odd even for jellyfish, who typically have interesting-looking gonads.

Also visible in the video is a net-like patch that some have speculated looks like a network of nerves. In fact, this is part of their digestive system. While the jellyfish floats along, it will come upon some prey, who ultimately get tangled in their large bell. The jellyfish seals the bell around the prey and stings it until it is dead. As it begins to digest the animal, the nutrients are taken up by that net-like area.

So there we have it. Though the “mystery” was officially solved shortly after the video’s release, the misinformation is still circulating due to “serial sharers” who would rather pass things along than spend a couple minutes investigating the legitimacy of the video. Friends don’t let friends share bad information, so if you know anyone who still doesn’t know that this “unidentified sea creature” has actually been known for nearly 50 years, please set the record straight.

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