A creature described as "a rarely seen horror" by National Geographic is among the finds made by NOAA explorers scouring the ocean floor off the southeastern United States, including both Carolinas.
Photos from the 17 dives have been posted online, and they reveal a rogue's gallery of sea creatures spotted May 22 through July 2.
In some cases, experts aboard the explorer ship Okeanos admitted what they were viewing remotely was "unidentified," such as the octopus-type plant found growing off Currituck or the "potential" hydriod that resembled a pink cauliflower with multiple legs.
In other instances, biologists stumbled on known but uncommon sights such as the deepsea lizard fish, which resembles its name in the worst possible sense. One was seen 5,810 feet down off Currituck on July 1, looking fluorescent in the camera's light.
National Geographic describes the lizardfish as a "horror" that has a "maw of sharp teeth and haunting black eyes." Its scientific name is the dinosaur-sounding bathysaurus.
"They can grow more than two feet in length," reported National Geographic, "and have both male and female organs, which enables them to mate with any member of their species."
NOAA also captured at least one "ambush predator" in action, filming the moment it bolted out of the sand, snatched "a large midwater fish," then vanished below the surface.
The dives set out to explore and map plateaus, escarpments, submarine canyons and "gas seeps," where methane bubbles up from the ocean floor. A mysterious "sonar anomaly" was also investigated off North Carolina, but turned out to be a geological formation rather than a shipwreck or "otherwise," as NOAA put it.
"Though the East Coast is home to millions of Americans," explained NOAA, ". . . the deep water areas offshore Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are some of the least explored areas along the U.S. East Coast."
At least one shipwreck was visited, a suspected 19th-century vessel found 7,000 feet down off the North Carolina coast. Its identity remains a mystery, NOAA says.
All the wood, including the hull, has vanished, NOAA experts determined. But strewn across the ocean floor NOAA found such artifacts as bottles of wine, ceramic jugs and containers for food.
"What happened here? We may never know," said James P. Delgado, in NOAA's report on the wreck.
"A long stretch of anchor chain running off into the darkness and the location of the wreck suggest it was lost in a storm, perhaps even an ocean hurricane, that in the end, sent the ship spiraling down as the chain spilled out from the chain locker. I do not suspect that the people on the ship survived."