As the team aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus roamed the sea surrounding the Channel Islands last week, they came across a strange purple blob settled into a rocky ledge. With small bumps across its body, the creature’s shining pink core was visible through its outer membrane, but the Nautilus team wasn’t able to immediately identify the blob.
On the team’s video of the finding, a researcher can be heard guessing that it’s an octopus on first glance. But zooming in, they become perplexed.
“Oh, what is that?” one researcher says.
“I’m stumped,” says another. “I have no idea. I can’t even hazard a guess.”
Looking at images taken by the team, Jeff Goddard, a UCSB marine scientist, told The Santa Barbara Independent he thinks he might have solved the mystery, but only after much pondering. “I woke up in the middle of the night and [thought], ‘I know what this is,’” he said.
Goddard asserted that everything points to the purple orb being a velutinid, a type of predatory snail. He further hypothesized that it’s “more likely than not that it’s a new species.” Goddard supported his velutinid guess by the gray organisms seen surrounding the area around the purple orb. He speculated the gray organisms were ascidians, or sea squirts, and that this pointed to the purple orb being a predator feeding on them. In addition, the tentacles on the orb’s head are consistent with velutinid snails, Goddard said.
While he’s fairly sure of his conclusion, Goddard said he cannot be 100 percent sure since he wasn’t part of the team that handled the specimen. “I’ve seen these animals fool people many times as to their identity,” he said.
The Nautilus team is working with the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology to identify the purple orb, which unfolded into two different lobes after they retrieved it, according to the YouTube video’s description. But while they’re figuring out what it is, the team’s best guess is that the orb is a pleurobranch, a relative of the nudibranch, both of which are types of sea slug. It could take several years to determine if the purple blob is indeed a new species, the video indicated.