Wait! Don’t touch that! It’s not a toy. It’s a living thing.
Researchers aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus were scanning the seafloor off the coast of California using an unmanned submarine when they spotted a purple thing that caused them to laugh with amusement.
“It looks so fake,” one researcher said. “It looks like some little kid dropped their toy.” (Watch and listen in the first video player on this page.)
They maneuvered the remotely operated vehicle Hercules closer and continued to laugh at the creature with eyes that looked glued on. Later, as the video went viral, this purple cephalopod — a class that includes squid, octopus and cuttlefish — became known to many people as the “googly eyed squid.” Since Aug. 12, more than 2.5 million viewers have clicked on the video.
This species, Rossia pacifica, is known to Puget Sound divers as the stubby squid or sometimes the bobtail squid, but it is not a true squid. See The Cephalopod Page by James Wood to understand the relationship among family groups.
This particular stubby squid was seen in early August on the seafloor about 2,950 feet deep off the California Coast. They can be found from throughout the North Pacific south to Southern California. They are found at many depths from coastal waters to inland seas.
The second video shows a bobtail squid spotted from the EV Nautilus in August of 2014, and the third shows a flapjack octopus from August of 2015.
Roland Anderson of Seattle Aquarium described early surveys in Puget Sound, where stubby squids were found in muddy sand at 11 sites between Seattle and Tacoma, including Elliott and Commencement bays. Check out “Field Aspects of the Sepiolid Squid.” (PDF 3.3 mb)
In a piece on “The Cephalopod Page,” Anderson writes, “One surprising thing recently learned about stubby squid is that they are found in polluted urban bays with highly polluted bottom sediments, such as the inner harbors of Seattle and Tacoma.
“There may be several reasons they can survive there. Deposition from rivers maybe capping polluted sediments. Their short life spans (just two years from eggs) may not allow them to absorb a significant amount of pollutants from the sediments. Another survival factor may be the stubby squid’s ability to produce copious quantities of mucus, which may protect it from the sediments like a thick Jello jacket.”
Reporter Stefan Sirucek of National Geographic News interviewed Michael Vecchione, a cephalopod expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
“It’s not an uncommon species,” he said. “They get all the way from scuba-diving depths down into the deep sea. If that is all one species, then it’s pretty broadly distributed.”
Vecchione said large eyes are fairly common among deep-see animals.
“They are funny-looking eyes, but I’ve seen other species of this genus that had eyes that looked very similar,” he said. “People were actually asking whether those eyes were photo-shopped in to make it look more like a cartoon or something. No, those are the real eyes. That’s what they look like.”
In low light, the big eyes help them hunt for crustaceans and avoid predators. In either case, the strategy is to remain still so other animals don’t notice it there, which can make it look like a child’s toy.
“My guess is it was probably frozen because of this big machine that was brightly lit up in front of it,” Vecchione said in the interview. “So it was trying not to be seen, basically.”