What if it's an egg sac of some sort?
July 30, 2016 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Scientists fight crab for mysterious purple orb discovered in California deep. The E/V Nautilus team are working 5,000ft below sea off Santa Barbara, analysis has revealed a foot and proboscis, making it ‘a gastropod of some kind
posted by Lanark (56 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I await the day when Google designs a self-guided crab-puncher to retrieve all the mysterious purple orbs.

Actually, that's beginning to sound like a salable mobile device game....
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:57 PM on July 30, 2016 [10 favorites]


Slightly more seriously, the oceans are neat, and get neater as you descend.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


My two favourite bits:

"Is it small enough to slurp or should we put it in a biobox?"

and

"Wait for it...sediment...sediment...Yaaaaaay!"

Followed the video back to the E/V Nautilus channel - it has a whole bunch of cool stuff on it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:00 PM on July 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sometimes a familiar element can be so surprising. Even doing that kind of work, you pick up a specimen using a hose that could have come right of a 1985 vacuum cleaner. And just like the hose from a 1985 vacuum cleaner it is held in place with duck tape.
posted by idiopath at 2:05 PM on July 30, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, I am so subscribing to their Twitter feed because I need more stuff like this in my life:

Holy Mola mola! Our control room erupted in excitement as this slow-swimming saucer buzzed our ROV yesterday. (includes a brief video clip)
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:13 PM on July 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


play this with the Stranger Things soundtrack and it gets much more ominous
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


Holy Mola mola!

Me: Isn't that just a sunfish?
(Looks up sunfish -- Scientific name: mola mola)
Me: Oh. Got it.

Upon further reading, they're apparently quite rare in captivity. But I've seen one on every visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so I'm spoiled.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:30 PM on July 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just love hearing all the women's voices in this. And the adorable wonkery :)
I'm not by any means a scientist, but these are My People.
posted by thebrokedown at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2016 [15 favorites]


Attack its weak point for massive damage!
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:35 PM on July 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh, thank you for this.

A while back, I was watching the super-deep water Okeanos Explorer channel pretty regularly. It's not only incredibly cool, but when I'm really tired but can't get to sleep, watching the Marianas Trench and listening to marine biologist chatter is pretty much exactly what I need.

I stopped for a while when that project was on a break, and just kind of forgot about it for a while. I didn't even know about this one. I'm pretty much set now!
posted by ernielundquist at 2:38 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


>the oceans are neat, and get neater as you descend.

Eh, I was just looking at all the fish poop floating around in this vid.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2016


This world <3
posted by New England Cultist at 2:42 PM on July 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Business journals often publish "best places to work" which are just stupid promotional things to attract clients and talents and you get 15 emails from HR, "Remember to vote to show your #loveourcompany" and everyone just wants to go home before dinner.

This is truly a best place to work.
posted by geoff. at 2:44 PM on July 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


I thought it was gonna be a sea hare initially given its color and, um, squishy-ness! I caught a giant one (about the size of a large cantaloupe) in Coronado when I was in high school and the purple ink it excretes stained my hands for nearly a month.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:13 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Imagine how freaked out that crab is. Living 5000 feet down in the water and suddenly there is LIGHT IN HIS WORLD.

Did the crab even see the weird purple blob before the light was there? Inquiring minds want to know!
posted by hippybear at 3:27 PM on July 30, 2016


TINIEST KAIJU HERE I COME IN MY TINY JAEGER
posted by poffin boffin at 3:40 PM on July 30, 2016 [26 favorites]


They got the rarest of Pokémons!
posted by chavenet at 3:54 PM on July 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


*disappointed* No Cthulhu.
posted by kozad at 3:54 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Glad to see some proper old school science that consists largely of poking things.
posted by Artw at 4:08 PM on July 30, 2016 [30 favorites]


Good things come from orbs!
posted by The Whelk at 4:15 PM on July 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


Not happy about their decision to suck it up. Later when they brought it up, it had turned into this. I feel a twinge of rage that they made the decision on-the-fly to rip a wonderful mysterious creature out of its home based on the diameter of the suction tube being wide enough.
posted by Taft at 4:17 PM on July 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is all well and good until the face hugger emerges from its chrisalys and slowly one by one the crew is picked off.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Scientists fight crab for mysterious purple orb"

Let us take a moment to appreciate living in a world where this is an accurate description of actual events
posted by clockzero at 4:22 PM on July 30, 2016 [28 favorites]


Business journals often publish "best places to work" which are just stupid promotional things to attract clients and talent

Having served on the team that chooses the annual Fortune list, I can verify the accuracy of this statement.
posted by Lyme Drop at 4:47 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Boo crabs! Yay, purple blobs! I wonder if every human is reflexively anti crab.

Back in the dark days when I had to work there, the giant Fortune 500 corporation was VERY interested in you filling out your Best Place to Work survey. No one imagined that it was private.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:53 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am not anti-crab, I am very pro-crab. Crabs are awesome. My favorite crab is the coconut crab.

They can climb trees and have a very good sense of smell. Also if one pinches you, you can tickle it and it will let go.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 5:09 PM on July 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


"Don't wanna clog the slurp." Truer words, my friends. Truer words.

I love watching these undersea explorations when they're live. As thebrokedown mentions, a lot of the scientists are women, which in and of itself is cool. And they just get so excited -- the scientists at the new and bizarre things they see, the ROV pilots at the crazy maneuvers they manage.... It's like an extended adult summer camp whose output is scientific discoveries. Totally love it.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:27 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


coconut crab

You failed to provide a picture with a trashcan for scale.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:31 PM on July 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


Not happy about their decision to suck it up.

Well, that's the tragic thing about this kind of science. If they hadn't made that decision, we'd probably never find one again. So this was our only hope of ever figuring out what it even was to begin with, despite the certainty of killing it.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:37 PM on July 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love (among other things) how clearly you can see the duck tape on the slurp.

Also, I imagine how afterwards the crab met up with some friends and was like "You guys, I was just picking up my lunch and you will NOT BELIEVE what happened. Does anyone have a snack? I'm starving."
posted by rtha at 5:43 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm enjoying this adventure from beyond the ultraworld.
posted by davebush at 5:48 PM on July 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh god. Coconut crabs are at least as anti human as velociraptors or geese.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:52 PM on July 30, 2016


The Whelk: Good things come from orbs!

Counterpoint: Pah-wraiths
posted by dr_dank at 5:52 PM on July 30, 2016 [10 favorites]


Glad to see some proper old school science that consists largely of poking things.

I watch the live feed pretty regularly (it's great background TV) and on at least one occasion I have heard them use the phrase "poke it for science."
posted by contraption at 6:00 PM on July 30, 2016 [19 favorites]


"poke it for science."

Ugh, I've been on that date.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 6:13 PM on July 30, 2016 [31 favorites]


Also if one pinches you, you can tickle it and it will let go.

So does emitting a piercing shriek of pure terror also work or just tickling
posted by notquitemaryann at 6:54 PM on July 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh that's a Voltorb.
posted by miyabo at 7:20 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah...I really love the wonkery on the part of the crew.

But, I definitely wasn't feeling good about harvesting it. Is there no possible way to study it in-situ? I know it's the bottom of the ocean and all, but still. You'd think we would have come up with something better than sucking it up and killing it.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:59 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


You failed to provide a picture with a trashcan for scale.

isn't that they modeled the Reapers on for Mass Effect?

you know, the machine intelligences that regularly exterminated all intelligent life in the galaxy?

that looks about right
posted by indubitable at 8:21 PM on July 30, 2016


It was like a horror movie where humanity is the monster about to destroy a precious living creature and laughing the whole while and there's nothing to do to stop them.

Except it's real and it's how we view life beyond ourselves. Don't know what it is? Slice it open.
posted by xarnop at 8:23 PM on July 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not happy about their decision to suck it up. Later when they brought it up, it had turned into this.

That's so disappointing.
posted by cashman at 8:50 PM on July 30, 2016


That crab just experienced a full on UFO encounter.

Nobody is going to believe.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:04 AM on July 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


>the oceans are neat, and get neater as you descend.

Eh, I was just looking at all the fish poop floating around in this vid.


If you look at it from the ocean's perspective, living on land is basically like living on a giant floating rock turd. We're the poop. The ocean is one giant toilet.
posted by Fizz at 6:16 AM on July 31, 2016


Is there no possible way to study it in-situ?

Well, they could have studied the crab eating it I suppose. Or do you think it was there to make friends?
posted by happyroach at 6:38 AM on July 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


A lot of the time in the biological sciences, you have to kill things to be able to study them. You just do—you avoid it when you can, and you try to do it as humanely as possible (in many cases there is outside oversight that exists to help ensure this) but it is frequently, frequently unavoidable. This is especially the case in subfields like animal behavior, ecology, and conservation biology—areas of the field that people go into in great part because they love nature, find it beautiful and fascinating, and want to help understand and protect it.

You either make your peace with that paradox in one way or another, or you stay out of those parts of the sciences. To a certain extent being a biologist at all involves at least being complicit with that kind of work, since you know that it's going on and you read papers and see presentations from people who are doing that kind of work all the time, and if you started an argument over the fundamental bioethics of lethal sampling at every opportunity you'd never do anything else—and you'd quickly become persona non grata among your colleagues.

I never found a way to fully make my peace with that, which is one of the reasons why I abandoned that path myself. But I don't really blame the people who have found a way to square it with themselves and who do do this work. I've worked among such people, and in my experience they are universally motivated by a powerful curiosity toward and reverence for nature, and a burning desire to understand and safeguard it. None of them enjoyed the destructive aspect of their work, but they had found ways to accept the necessity of it without allowing that acceptance to diminish their fundamental love of what they did.

It's really complicated and it's something that everybody who works in ecology and/or organismal biology needs to figure out for themselves. I couldn't quite deal with it personally, but some people can; people are different and feel differently about this stuff. Nobody does it thoughtlessly, even if in the moment, while doing the work, they allow themselves to feel the joyful parts of it rather than the sad parts.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:45 AM on July 31, 2016 [12 favorites]


you have to kill things to be able to study them.

This wasn't one of those times. Wantonly killing a species you discovered seconds before? Are you fucking kidding me?

Well, they could have studied the crab eating it I suppose. Or do you think it was there to make friends?

You seem to know a lot about the edibility of this thing no one knows anything about.
posted by Taft at 12:29 PM on July 31, 2016


You seem to know a lot about the edibility of this thing no one knows anything about.

To be fair, as far as we know, that crab was a scientist, too. Of course, crab research questions are pretty much limited to "can I eat this?" and "will this eat me," and they are terrible with grant reports and data preservation plans, but baby steps. Sideways baby steps.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2016 [17 favorites]


It was one of those times, though. There wasn't a lot that they could have learned noninvasively there beyond "that sure is a weird purple orb." They could have made the choice not to study it further and left it alone, sure, but without collecting it (which necessarily involved killing it, given the environment the thing was living in) there wasn't much more they were likely to learn.

They didn't know at the time that it was a new species, although they surely suspected that it might well be. They didn't even know for sure that it was alive. It was just some sort of gelatinous, organic-looking mass of purple stuff. It could have been an egg sac, or a dead jellyfish, or a blob of algae, or a piece of trash, or who knows what? Remote observation alone wasn't likely to tell them.

Also, discovering new species and slurping them up for later analysis and preservation is a big part of why they were there in the first place, one of the core missions of survey operations like this. If you're going to try to protect biodiversity it helps to have an idea of what is there to be protected. Biodiversity surveys give us a baseline against which we can judge the health of different environments and gauge things like extinction rates and loss of ecological function. You have to catalogue things and characterize them as a first step toward understanding them and their roles in the ecosystem.

Usually that cataloguing and characterization involves lethal sampling and the preservation of a holotype specimen which future scientists can use to compare their own observations against. The way we know if this is a new species is by going through the records and seeing whether anyone else has ever collected something like this before. This specimen is absolutely going to be extensively photographed and measured, its tissues will be analyzed genetically and samples of them will probably be cryogenically preserved for the benefit of future researchers, the remains will be preserved in as close a state as possible to their original form (often not very close, but they'll do their best) and sent to a research museum for archiving. If they think they have something new, the research team will eventually publish a description paper in which they lay out their findings and do their best to tell everyone in the scientific community what they've learned, including where in the Tree of Life they think this thing belongs and what its name should be. This is standard practice for biodiversity surveys, and none of it would be possible without collecting and killing the specimen.

All of this may mean that in the future people won't have to kill these things to study them, because some types of research will be possible using the preserved remains and the data recorded from the holotype. In the future, scientists may avoid slurping these up until they have a sense of how common they are. But it's very rare that taking a single sample has a meaningful impact on the viability of a species or an ecosystem, and the scientists who do this work generally justify it in part by arguing—with considerable merit—that the overall environmental impact, when all's said and done, is strongly a positive one.

Now, there's certainly an ethical argument to be made that the impact for the individual involved is pretty much as negative as it gets, and that this alone makes what these researchers did unconscionable. They would disagree with you though, and I think there's real room for disagreement there. It's certainly not something they've never given thought to, or something that they dismiss blithely as they gleefully traipse about on the ocean floor destroying things in the name of science. This is a very old argument we're having here, and very few people think that the answer is as black and white as you seem to.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:27 PM on July 31, 2016 [13 favorites]


I thought this article was an interesting look at some of the controversies and arguments for specimen collection: Is Collecting Animals For Science A Noble Mission Or A Threat? I have used the incredible specimen collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History as a volunteer, but my work doesn't include that kind of research. I doubt any scientists who collect specimens take it lightly, especially in areas difficult to research like deep sea environments.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:51 PM on July 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is there no possible way to study it in-situ? I know it's the bottom of the ocean and all

It's really, really hard and expensive and emergetically costly and risky to have machinery, let alone people, at the bottom of the ocean. To understand an organism in situ you often have to watch for years. This probably isn't the only novel organism. So, no.
posted by clew at 3:41 PM on July 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, most of the basic morphological and genetic info that you need in order to identify a new species is flat-out impossible to get noninvasively. Not to mention that traditionally you need to have a holotype on file, or the fact that archived specimens and the data that is collected from them is often of great value to future research, none of which would be possible without collecting and killing the specimen. These researchers were doing exploration and survey work. Collecting novel specimens is totally in line with what they were there for, it's part of their core research mission.

You can totally argue that that shouldn't be the case and that science should be practiced very differently with a much higher emphasis on noninvasive or at least non-lethal sampling and to some extent I'd even agree with that—it was part of why I got out of the sciences, as I said above—but what they did was totally standard practice for the sort of mission they were on, and if you're going to take exception to it then you have a beef with a huge amount of ecological and conservation research. Generally speaking, when an ecologist sees an organism that they think might be a new species, the first thing they do is try to kill it so that they can bring it back to the lab and put it in a research museum. It has been ever thus.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:16 PM on July 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


Science involves taking things apart to see how they work. It would be incrediblyn unusual for modern collection methods, taking one or two index specimens, to have any kind of impact on a species. We no longer need an index specimen in every county museum so it's not like the past. You kill more invertebrates every time you drive your car or now your lawn than in years of underwater expeditions.
posted by fshgrl at 6:35 PM on August 1, 2016


coconut crab

You failed to provide a picture with a trashcan for scale.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:31 PM on July 30


Um, I just went down several rabbit holes regarding coconut crabs, and I can only come to the conclusion that that can is more like a wastebasket with a lid rather than a full blown trash can.

From the stuff I've seen on YT, these things are rarely over 3 kg. Certainly large arthropods, and I wouldn't want to have to mess with any, but I get the impression that they are WAY smaller than a 30-33 US gallon trash can. I think we need concrete, rock solid measurements done by experts before we start declaring them the godzillas of the arthropods.

Of course I could be totally wrong.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:06 PM on August 2, 2016


From the stuff I've seen on YT, these things are rarely over 3 kg.

Whatever helps you sleep at night.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:41 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the coconut crab trashcan picture is pretty awesome but if you look closely it's clearly a scaled-down trashcan.

Coconut crabs are totally on my list of Animals to Eat Before I Die, though. I hear they taste like coconut crab.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:31 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Coconut crabs are totally on my list of Animals to Eat Before I Die

I have also long been plotting from the other side of the globe to devour these innocent creatures. How can that not be incredible? I'm shocked it hasn't been a food trend already.
posted by contraption at 11:45 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


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