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Rare "Headless Chicken Monster" Filmed In The Ocean Stuns Researchers

NOAA

Researchers working at the bottom of the world have unveiled impressive footage of sea life in Antarctica's Southern Ocean.

But one bizarre animal they caught on camera has captured the public's imagination.

Now, the world is getting to know the "headless chicken monster" and wondering, what the heck is it?

"We'd never seen this thing before... none of us actually knew what it was."

Sea cucumber
While sea cucumbers normally stay on the ocean floor, the "Spanish dancer" is very nimble.AAD

While this creature had actually been studied by scientists before, the researchers who caught it on camera near the South Pole had no idea what they were looking at.

"We'd never seen this thing before," said Dr. Dirk Welsford, who lead the project for the Australian Antarctic Division.

"At the time, none of us actually knew what it was, so we did what a lot of scientists do and Googled it."

So just like the rest of us, these ocean experts were surprised to learn about Enypniastes eximia, a type of sea cucumber known as the "headless chicken monster," or the much more generous "Spanish dancer."

While these sea creatures have documented before, this was the first time a Spanish dancer was filmed anywhere but the Gulf of Mexico.

Sea cucumbers are small ocean animals related to starfish and sea urchins. There are more than 1,200 species cucumbers, including odd varieties that shoot out their own guts to scare off predators.

This species has transparent skin, and spends most of its life almost two miles under the waves, on the ocean floor, where it feeds on tiny animals called plankton.

The "dancer" earned its name for its most unusual feature, wing-shaped fins that let it swim up, which is unusual for sea cucumbers.

As Welsford said, "It's one of the most spectacular specimens I've ever seen."

"Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking."

Australian researchers managed to capture the "chicken" on tape while testing out their new deep sea cameras.

Deep sea camera
The "headless chicken" was filmed using a new deep sea camera.AAD

The cutting edge devices are attached to fishing lines, and built to hang down near the sea floor in total darkness and high pressure.

Teaching the world about the sea cucumber was a perk, but scientists are really interested in studying how commercial fishing affects Antarctica's ocean life.

"Some of the footage we are getting back from the cameras is breathtaking, including species we have never seen in this part of the world," Welsford said.

"Most importantly, the cameras are providing important information about areas of sea floor that can withstand this type of fishing, and sensitive areas that should be avoided."

Headless chicken monster
Ocean animals, including the "headless chicken," are at risk from commercial fishing.NOAA

Sea cucumbers are at risk from big business too: they're considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, and are also used as an ingredient in traditional medicine.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) included the footage of the blobby creature while proposing a new protection area for Antarctic ocean animals this week.

[H/T: CNN, ABC Australia]

What do you think of the "Spanish dancer"? Is it cool, or creepy?

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories. CONTACT: zachary@shared.com