A mesmerising deep-sea dancer by the name of Enypniastes eximia is enjoying a moment in the limelight after being filmed in the Southern Ocean off East Antarctica for what officials describe as the first time in that region. The footage of the sea cucumber, which is colloquially referred to as the “headless chicken monster,” comes courtesy of new underwater camera technology being used by researchers to aid in marine conservation efforts.
Video of the holothuroid was shared Sunday by the Australian Antarctic Division, which is part of Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy. According to the division, the Enypniastes eximia had previously only been filmed in the Gulf of Mexico.
This remarkable little creature—one of hundreds of known species of sea cucumber—spends most of its time buoying along the seafloor and using its “modified tube-feet” to feed on surface sediments, according to Australia’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They can swim if they want to, and use fin-like structures to escape predators or lift off the ocean floor. Sea cucumbers are an important part of the marine ecosystem—they’re sometimes referred to as the vacuum cleaners of the sea—but some are on the brink of extinction as the result of overfishing.
Originally developed by the Australian Antarctic Division for commercial use in long-line fishing, the underwater camera technology that captured the marine invertebrate is being used by the division to collect data for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an international commission that focuses on conserving Antarctic marine life. Australia is one of the commission’s 25 members.
“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,” Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dirk Welsford said in a statement. “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.”
Welsford added the exceptionally durable underwater camera technology is a “really simple and practical solution which is directly contributing to improving sustainable fishing practices.” The data collected by the division will be presented at the annual CCAMLR meeting in Hobart, Tasmania that begins Monday and will continue through November 2.
Gillian Slocum, Australia’s CCAMLR Commissioner, noted in a statement the importance of protecting the Southern Ocean’s diverse marine life, “including commercially sought-after species, the harvesting of which must be carefully managed for future generations.”