Even though scientists know about so many of the bizarre creatures inhabiting the oceans and rivers of the world, it’s mind-blowing to think there are still species out awaiting discovery down in the deep. In the most mysterious corners of the world lurk all sorts of unknown oddities.
In February 2019, a group of researchers ventured into northeastern Indian caves in an attempt to find previously unknown species of plants and animals. What the team came across was unlike anything they thought they’d find.
India is lush with flowing rivers teeming with the kinds of sea creatures scientists love studying, and there’s a seemingly endless list of amazing species. Still, a discovery by a Scottish researcher in 2019 stood out.
That researcher who frequented the bodies of water in India was Daniel Harries, an assistant professor at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. When he saw India’s aquatic research opportunities, his scientists’ eyes grew with delight.
Not only are vibrant areas of water a marine biologist’s dream come true, but they make for the most amazing photo opportunities. Harries and his team, however, had a less-photo friendly exploration site in mind.
Flickr / flickker photos
Underneath the ground were an extensive series of caves that held plenty of mysteries, and that was exactly where Harries often led his research team. But, it wasn’t always easy navigating the cramped terrain.
One of the reasons why caves were so hard to explore was because the rocks were so close together. Claustrophobia often set in quickly, and that hindered many expeditions. But, Meghalaya, India offered teams explorable caves.
The hilly state of Meghalaya was plush with rainforests and rivers. Curious as to what mysteries they held, a team of scientists — including Daniel Harries — ventured into the Meghalayan subterranean in February 2019.
The squad was prepped for the most extreme conditions underground, but every member knew what they getting into. Professor Harries was especially excited for the potential discoveries — he knew about some truly bizarre species.
One of the weirdest animals Harries studied was the boafish, which was a species of dragonfish containing a lining of luminescent areas along the spine. Deep under the oceans and in dark, cramped spaces, he knew, there lived a lot of weird fish.
The existence of these bizarre species excited Harries, and the prospect of finding a fish like this pushed him and his team to their limits. They were ecstatic when, not long into their journey, they found something truly bizarre.
It was a species unlike anyone had seen before. Cave waters weren’t abundant with fish, and most of the species were already known. However, this one left the team scratching their heads.
FOX News / Uros Aksamovic
A team member managed to pull one of the bizarre creatures out of the water for a closer look. The size was especially interesting, but there was another trait that really had everyone in awe.
FOX News / Daniel Harries
The species was troglomorphic, meaning that due to the constant darkness it lived in, it was blind and had very little pigment in the skin. But it was the something about the size that really intrigued the explorers.
Up until this point, it was thought cave fish couldn’t exceed about 13 inches in length because of the lack of resources in the environment. Well, this discovery destroyed that theory, as these were the biggest cave fish ever found! But just how large?
These Meghalaya fish measured over 15 inches in length! It wasn’t just the length either; the species was bulkier than other cave creatures, as well. This observation led to one important question.
Professor Harries said, “This throws up all sorts of questions such as what food source is sustaining them. We don’t have any clear answers for this yet but it is all very intriguing.” So, scientists started digging.
Experts at a nearby laboratory in India were thrilled to take on studying of the new animal. The fact that the fish remained undetected for so long was quite significant, and it even reminded the scientists of another similar species.
India Today / Subir Halder
These cave dwellers were anatomically similar to Golden Mahseer fish, an endangered species that inhabited many of the lakes and rivers of Asia. But, the de-pigmentation and lack of eyesight were two huge differences.
Rajeev Raghavan from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research made the discovery. “A locked cave population is a very interesting find that shows how little we know about these groups of fish,” he explained.
The discover of the Meghalaya fish also raised questions about what other cave species were overlooked in the past. Other biologists are joining Harries in his quest to understand all the unknown creatures of the world.
When a marine biologist from Sri Lanka went out exploring the ocean with her team, she was looking to broaden her and others’ knowledge about regular marine life behavior but ended up discovering something entirely unexpected.
See, after studying abroad, Sri Lankan native Dr. Asha De Vos returned with a Ph.D. in marine mammal research — the first from her country to earn one — along with a passion to conserve marine life no matter what it would take.
Before Dr. Vos’s return, Sri Lankans battled in a 25-year-long civil war, which didn’t end until 2009, so it was no wonder citizens weren’t focused on marine life. With the war over Dr. Vos turned his attention back to the sea.
The natives tended to use the water for consumption — for fishing and boating only — and Asha wasn’t satisfied with that aquatic relationship. She wanted to know more about what went on beneath the waves in the ocean near her homeland.
So in February 2017, Asha set out to do field (or water) work with her team, bringing cameras, notebooks, and scientific instruments. They were hoping to spot a whale or two.
Only 4.5 miles from shore, Asha was not expecting to find any large marine life yet. Nevertheless, the expedition boat was suddenly approached by a gigantic sea creature. Unsure of what it was, Asha quickly reached for her camera.
The creature was a whale, an animal Asha had always been fascinated with because they stabilize and support other marine life. But Asha, who was well versed in all things whale, had never seen one like this before — at least, not outside of a book.
Upon her return to the shore, she and her team looked at the photos they had taken of the unidentified whale species. They noticed its asymmetrical coloring and peculiar markings. But… it couldn’t be…
Asha had a theory of what whale species she may have encountered, but she wasn’t quite sure. She quickly placed a call to consult with some esteemed colleagues, Dr. Robert Brownell and Dr. Salvatore Cerchio, left. Amazed, they agreed with her theory.
Asha believed the whale she met at sea was an Omura’s whale. Named after Japanese cetologist Hideo Omura, and also known as a dwarf fin whale, it wasn’t categorized as its own species until 2003 — and only one had been spotted ever since… until now.
It was actually Dr. Salvatore Cerchio who led the exploration that resulted in the only other finding of a live Omura’s whale. In 2013, he and his team spotted one off the coast of Madagascar but were unable to get samples or learn more about its territories.
Most information gathered about Omura’s whales was based solely on dead specimen, so to run into a live one was extraordinary. The whale has a narrow body and can grow up to 33 feet long. It tends to live in tropical or subtropical waters, but was never before found near Sri Lanka before — and for good reason.
Off the coast of Sri Lanka lies one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, which means whales don’t fare well there. The increase of tourism didn’t help either: whales tended to shy away from boats full of tourists trying to take their pictures.
Asha knew the consequences of endangering whales better than anyone. She was once asked to give a TED talk about how we’ve harmed the whale population, what this means for the ecosystem, and what we can do to prevent further damage. Whales, Asha knew, are more important than you may think.
“Ultimately,” she said, “many people still think that whale conservationists like myself do what we do only because these creatures are charismatic and beautiful, but that is actually a disservice…”
Whales tend to dive to the depths of the ocean to eat and come back up to the surface to breathe. During this process they often go number two, which spreads essential nutrients from the deep waters to more shallow parts, letting other sea-life can enjoy it.
The other way in which whales sustain marine ecosystems is even more gruesome than the first: if left at sea after they die, their carcasses sink (this is called whale fall), and become a gigantic meal for animals like sharks, seagulls, and hagfish.
For these reasons, Asha fought to conserve whales and spread awareness about the issue for years. She promotes an end to whale hunting, suggests a safer route for ships, and collects whale poop regularly to further study its effects. No wonder she was so excited to spot an extremely rare species!
The finding of the Omura’s whale sends a positive message: there may be hope for all whale species yet. “Our planet is 70 percent water,” she said, “but we have only explored about 5 percent of it. This serves as a reminder that we live in an incredible world where exploration is still possible. The more we know, the more we can care and protect!”
Marine biologists from all over the world are working hard to not only learn about life deep under the sea but to also stress the importance of keeping marine life alive. Whale hunting, seal clubbing, pollution, intensive boating and other human activity is hurting the oceans, and something has to be done.
As of 2018, Asha was still conducting research about the blue whale (and now the Omura’s whale as well), but her main focus was educating people about the importance of whales. “My dream is to be a voice from a part of the world to which we rarely listen,” she said. “Speaking on behalf of the planet that is often overlooked.”
While there’s literally plenty of fish in the sea, there are also quite a lot on our shores. Of course, these washed up creatures were once from the deep, but from where exactly? This curiosity is what led one family to investigate this purple, pulsating blob.
Adam and Eve Dickinson via News Hub
As soon as the Dickinsons — comprised of Adam, Eve, and their two kids — stepped on to Auckland, New Zealand’s Pakiri Beach, they saw this gooey mass in the sand. They had no idea what it was, nor what it was capable of…
Adam and Eve Dickinson via Newshub
So naturally, the two kids, Sofia and Lucas, sprinted over to it with all the reckless abandon of children on a mission to satisfy their curiosities about something wildly unsafe and potentially dangerous.
This concerned Adam and Eve, who didn’t wish to see their children succumb to a purple, potentially poisonous beach blob, so they, too, approached the mysterious thing in the sand.
Eve Dickinson / Facebook
“My initial thought was ‘don’t let my kids touch it,'” Adam told the news sometime after the ordeal. With the family of four now all gathered around the mystery substance, they all echoed the same question: what the heck was it?
The Dickinsons launched an informal investigation. The first thing they noticed? The purple blob was pulsating. Moving. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it was alive.
“It almost looked like a load of muscles contracting,” Adam recalled. “It was pretty incredible and really hard to describe.” Meanwhile, the kids were reminded of something oddly specific when they looked at the blob.
Lucas told his mom the creature looked like a volcano; it had, after all, sloping sides and what looked like a crater of bubbling purple lava. This was obviously no volcano, so the Dickinsons investigated further.
Despite their initial concerns about the pulsating creature, the family — to our benefit — proceeded to place check after check on the list of things you should not do to foreign, potentially dangerous things…
Eve Dickinson / Facebook
For instance, Lucas and Sofia blew on the thing. To the kids’ delights, the more they blew on the creature, the more it moved, confirming, yep, it was very much alive and was very much aware of outside stimuli.
With this understanding, the Dickinsons grabbed a stick and prodded the blob. Sure enough, Eve recalled the creature moved even more when the stick prodded its meat.
While the kids poked, prodded, and blew on the creature, Adam and Eve noted something peculiar about the beach: tons of jellyfish were scattered across the shore. This answered the question, right?
2cycle2gether / flickr
See, for a moment, they thought their mystery creature was just a jellyfish washed ashore. But still, their pulsating friend looked nothing like the other jellyfish. Maybe their guy was just upside down or something?
So with their stick, the Dickinsons flipped over some of the other jellyfish that’d washed up on the shore, hoping this would prove their creature was just a really big, really upside-down jellyfish.
But even upside-down, the landlocked jellyfish still looked nothing like the captivating creature that had so entranced the family. They were back to square one, so, eventually, the marine experts chimed in with answers.
A member of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Diana Macpherson, knew almost instantly what this “common” creature was.
The purple, pulsating blob that had entranced Adam, Eve, Sofia, and Lucas on the jellyfish-laden shores of Pakiri Beach was, according to Diana, the largest species of jellyfish found in New Zealand waters: the lion’s mane jellyfish!
These huge jellyfish can grow as big as seven feet wide with tentacles a hundred feet long. Those long tentacles give it a sort of lion’s mane — hence the creature’s name.
As it turned out, Adam was right to want to keep his kids away initially. While these jellyfish aren’t deadly, their tentacles carry toxins that can deliver some serious welts to those unfortunate enough to get caught in the “mane.”
This particular jellyfish was also a bit of an oddity. Normally, lion’s manes wash up on shore in the summer or spring, when plankton start blooming. This one washed up in autumn.
Whatever the odds of a lion’s mane washing up in September, the Dickinsons were delighted with the experience. “It was incredible,” Adam recalled.