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Deep-sea exploration off Hawaii reveals strange creatures

Using remotely operated vehicles and the most advanced mapping systems, scientists set out to this summer to explore some of the deepest and most remote stretches of the ocean off the Hawaiian Archipelago.

The operation, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and launched from its ship Okeanos Explorer, came across a wide array of fish and other sea creatures several miles down, as well as high-density, diverse sea coral and sponge communities.

The Hawaii mission returned with scores of cool images from some of the deepest parts of the oceans, including a rainbow colored squid, Walvisteuthis youngorum, set against the darkness of the ocean at nearly 3,000 feet.

Other photos show a white stalked sponge (Caulophacus sp.) that looks like someone's clenched fist, and a shimmering, purple polynoid polychaete worm caught walking across the sandy ocean bottom three miles down.

The goal of the mission, which continues with additional dives from Sept. 7 through Sept. 30, is to "identify vulnerable habitats" in the waters off the Hawaiian Archipelago, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Johnston Atoll - part of the recently expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Scientists are also hoping to get fresh details about the seamounts within the Prime Crust Zone (PCZ), an area of the Pacific with the highest expected concentration of deep-sea minerals, which could one day be a target of deep-sea mining. And they hope to learn more about the complex geologic history of Central Pacific Seamounts, particularly those that could provide a greater understanding of plate tectonics.

A similar mission in the Caribbean Sea earlier this year yielded some similarly stunning glimpses of the deep.