Gulper Eel Transforms Before Scientists' Eyes

A gulper eel billows out near the ocean floor. EVNautilus/YouTube

The ocean floor can sometimes seem like a whole different planet. To prove that theory you need look no further than the gulper eel (Eurypharynx pelecanoides).

In the video above, you can see a gulper eel swim close to a remotely piloted undersea exploring Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawaii. It looks like a black blob with a long, thin tail behind it. If you didn't know it was a gulper eel, you might think it was a scout for an alien race.

Or maybe a Muppet.

The vehicle was controlled by researchers for the Nautilus Exploration Program, and you can hear them commenting on the gulper eel as the vehicle moves closer to the creature.

"What is that?" one of them asks.

"Oh, wow," another says.

"It looks like a Muppet," says a third.

As the vehicle gets closer, the creature isn't keen on a close-up. It transforms from writhing, inky ball to writhing, inky blob, inflating itself and shifting about in a circle in an effort to scare off this odd intruder.

"That's his defense," one of the Nautilus researchers excitedly comments. "Let me blow up, so I can show them how big I am."

At around the 1:27 mark, you can see the gulper eel open up its mouth, eliciting a series of delighted responses from the researchers. Like its name implies, gulper eels, sometimes called pelican eels, have loose mouths that are larger than their bodies. When they open their mouths, the eels are able to swallow creatures much bigger than they are. Any water they ingest in the process is expelled through the gills.

A cute wonder

Having mounted expeditions up and down the Pacific Coast of North America since 2014, researchers for the Nautilius Exploration Program have encountered many odd-looking creatures.

Perhaps the most adorable is the stubby squid (Rossia pacifica), a sea creature that looks like a mix of an octopus and a squid, but is most closely related to the cuttlefish. The researchers were positively giddy with spotting the cuddly-looking critter off the California coast in 2016 as you can see in the video below:

The Nautilus Exploration Program routinely makes live feeds available on their website, allowing the public to explore the ocean's depth along with the researcher team. They'll be sticking around Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument until Oct. 1, so there are plenty of chances to take in more sights that will make you realize just how wonderful and mysterious the ocean is. (After Oct. 1, they'll be moving on to map the Clarion Clipperton Fracture Zone, and who knows what they'll find there!)