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Scientists stumped by shiny golden egg discovered in deep sea

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Deep in the Gulf of Alaska, two miles under the ocean's surface, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found something strange.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAM CANDIO: What is this - some sort of encrusting sponge?

UNIDENTIFIED SCIENTIST #1: I don't know what to make of that.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The scientists were aboard the NOAA ship the Okeanos Explorer, and as they piloted a remotely operated vehicle through the deep, they encountered a four-inch-wide, shiny, golden orb sitting in a garden of white sea sponges.

CHANG: Cool. And as you can hear in this livestream of the dive from August 30, the researchers were stumped.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CANDIO: We're all over the place at the moment - started with that sponge attachment, moved on to potentially coral. Now we're thinking egg case.

CHANG: The team then steered the craft closer to grab a sample with the robot's suction tube.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SCIENTIST #2: I don't know how we get it - I guess a suction.

UNIDENTIFIED SCIENTIST #3: I could poke at it, see how hard it is.

CANDIO: Let's give it a little tickle.

KELLY: Sam Candio, who you just heard at the end there, is the expedition coordinator. He says as surprising and weird as this squishy, golden orb is, every dive brings an unexpected mystery.

CANDIO: You kind of get to experience that childlike wonder every time you go down. I think every single dive we've been on, there's something that we've all kind of scratched our heads and said, huh (ph).

CHANG: He and the scientists are still scratching their heads about this golden orb, by the way. He says once the Okeanos docks, they'll send the specimen to the Smithsonian, where they will do more testing and get input from scientists around the world.

KELLY: Now, not everything these underwater explorers discover is quite so hard to decipher.

CANDIO: I think the biggest one that captured our attention is the videos that we collected of deep-sea octopus brooding their eggs. And you could actually see the baby octopuses within the eggs. You can see their tentacles. You can see their eyes. That's exciting. Anything that is weird and blobby and we can't place, that's always exciting. And we see a lot of weird, blobby things, to sound very unscientific.

KELLY: If you want to see some of those weird, blobby things yourself - yes, please - they are launching more dives all week long. You can join the expedition yourself by watching the livestream at oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kai McNamee
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.