Imagine our surprise when this “big red jelly” unraveled its eight arms and showed us a beautiful Cirroteuthidae octopus hovering over moon-like terrain! Like something straight out of a sci-fi flick, the reddish hues of this “blob” starkly stand out against the deep blue-water backdrop, making it look like something from out of this world – not the depths of it.
Described as a “bell pepper” with a “clown nose,” the creature likely belongs to a family of cirrate octopuses known as Cirroteuthidae, and according to cephalopod expert Mike Vecchione, it may be a small juvenile Cirrothauma magna. These cephalopods were first described in the 19th-century but to this day remain poorly understood given their deep-water habitat. They are benthopelagic, meaning they tend to drift within 10 meters (33 feet) above the seafloor, and can grow up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length.
The Cirroteuthidae fans its arms out as it shapeshifts against a wall of urchins, opening and closing its gelatinous umbrella-like web that connects each individual arm. We estimate that the octopus measured about 20 centimeters (8 inches) across.
The cephalopod was spotted at a depth of 400 meters (1,300 feet) while exploring the deep-water features on the west side of Jarvis Island in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), one of the largest protected areas in the world. Because of its remote location, PRIMNM remains one of the least explored U.S. holdings in the Pacific Ocean leaving the diversity of species in the deep waters relatively unknown.