ghostlike octopod on the sea floor
Courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016

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‘Ghost octopus’ has heartbreaking parenting strategy

This little white octopus, dubbed “Casper,” certainly looks cute. And indeed this picture of the creature sitting on a rock ledge more than 4000 meters below the ocean surface off Hawaii earned it lots of likes and shares on social media when a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration submarine robot found it in a singular sighting in March. But Casper’s parenting strategy is not as adorable—in fact, it’s positively heartbreaking. In a study published this week in Current Biology, researchers report that this species (which is so new, it doesn’t have a scientific designation) not only lives in those great depths at several places of the Pacific—researchers made two dozen more observations of its behavior off Ecuador. The animal also attaches its clutch of about 30 quarter-sized eggs to the stalk of a dead sponge and then wraps its whole body around it. It will stay put to protect its young for several years, not feeding, waning away until the eggs hatch and it dies. This strategy may soon turn into a recipe for disaster, however. The sponges in question need to attach themselves to something hard on the sea floor, and in the depths of Pacific that often is a manganese nodule, a lump of rock containing some precious metals. Some companies and several nations are researching how to turn huge patches of sea floor into underwater mines and retrieve the metal blobs. That, the scientists warn, could mean no more eggs—and no more creatures like Casper.