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Mysterious Purple Specimen Found Near Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Exploration Vehicle Nautilus discovers specimen during 19-day voyage off Santa Barbara coast

Scientists on the Exploration Vessel Nautilus discovered a mysterious purple orb near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary on July 18.
Scientists on the Exploration Vessel Nautilus discovered a mysterious purple orb near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary on July 18.  (Ocean Exploration Trust, Inc. photo)

A mysterious purple ball-shaped species was discovered by scientists aboard the research ship Exploration Vessel Nautilus below the seafloor near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the California coast.

A camera attached to a remotely operated underwater robot operated by E/V Nautilus researchers captured the purple specimen in Arguello Canyon more than 5,000 feet deep on the ocean floor.

“It looks like a disco ball right now with the lasers next to it,” one scientist said.

Julie Bursek, a chief scientist for the expedition was on watch identifying organisms when the explorers came across the unusual orb.

“It could very well be a new species,” Bursek said. “The two deep sea ecologists on board were also very excited by the find.”

The team used a slurp hose to suction the purple organism into a storage container. Scientists sent the sample the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for analysis.

Bursek said when scientists began to study the 4-centimeter wide blob it unfolded into a different shape from when the team had collected it deep in the canyon.

The crew of the Exploration Vehicle Nautilus used a slurp hose to collect the purple organism on July 18. Click to view larger
The crew of the Exploration Vehicle Nautilus used a slurp hose to collect the purple organism on July 18.  (Ocean Exploration Trust, Inc. photo)

“It no longer was shaped like a ball,” she said. “Instead the specimen had a muscular foot with two spherical lobe structures.”

Scientists sent the specimen to an expert for positive identification.

“We are still working with experts on a positive identification of the mysterious organism we collected during the dive,” Bursek said. 

“Some experts think it is either a nudibranch or pleuropod — a type of sea slug.”  

Less than half of the sea floor within the boundaries of the Channel Islands sanctuary has been researched — the area covers about 1,470 square miles of ocean.

Equipped with the latest technological systems, E/V Nautilus used high-resolution sonar to map the area.

The 19-day expedition in July explored and collected biological samples of the deep-water habitats and sea corals around the island.

In the Channel Islands the crew also spotted whelks building egg towers, bones from an unidentified marine mammal, feeding sea stars and over 25 octopuses.

E/V Nautilus is managed by the not-for-profit Ocean Exploration Trust and led by Robert Ballard who is best known for discovering the wreckage of the Titanic and surveying deep-sea vents.

The exploration ship will be offshore Los Angeles until Aug.12 to explore tectonic plate areas​.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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