PODCAST: In the Pacific’s depths, they found animals thought extinct since before the dinosaurs

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Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 11:21 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 2, 2023 at 11:56 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly 1,000 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii, a team of scientists is mapping the deep sea and making ground-breaking discoveries.

Among those, a sea creature thought to have been extinct for millions of years.

Scientists said they discovered the stalked crinoid during their deep sea expedition at Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, located in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

The animals were thought to have gone extinct before the dinosaurs arrived on the scene.

Brian Kennedy, one of the lead scientists of the deep sea expedition, said the stalked crinoid “are these big beautiful flower looking animals, but they grow on this long stalk. They’re called sea lilies, and that’s really what they look like a lot of times.”

“These were thought extinct, we thought they were a relic of pre-dinosaur times, and now we find they are one of the most common organisms in the deep sea.”

Stalked Crinoid

Kennedy recently sat down with HNN’s “Repairing Earth” podcast to discuss the purpose and initial findings from this deep sea exploration, which is part of the Ocean Exploration Trust funded by NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute.


From their E/V Nautilus research ship stationed above the ocean’s surface, scientists are able to see the world underwater by remotely controlling two highly-equipped robots — Hercules and Atalanta.

“It’s just arrayed with lights and sensors and it’s got two robotic arms that allow us to pick up samples. It’s got a whole host of different water tanks and baskets to bring samples back,” Kennedy said.

But, while this area is home to some of the most pristine waters in the world, it’s already facing numerous threats.

“Even in the deep sea, miles underwater, there are the effects of climate change. It’s getting warmer, it’s getting more acidic. There’s derelict fishing gear and there’s litter out there, we’re finding microplastics in the deep sea,” Kennedy said.


And that’s why this exploration was launched, to not only survey uncharted territory but understand what policies and actions are needed to protect the area for generations to come.

“We’re going to have to take some really dramatic action and it’s going to take a little bit of everything from using less to using more wisely and even maybe recapturing some of the carbon we’ve emitted,” he said.

While their most recent expedition has finished, the scientists said their work has just begun as they now sift through the hundreds of hours of footage and samples they collected.

Kennedy said this process may take years to finish, but this work is a balancing act.

“Science is slow and sometimes policy is fast, and so we have to juggle those two timelines — the scientific timeline of how long it actually takes to process these samples, but also having enough data and having it ready to be used in formed-fashion for good policy making,” he said.

Hercules ROV

One of the groups working to expand protections of this area is the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition.

Hoku Cody, the project manager of the organization, said the area is not only important ecologically, but also culturally.

“Quite simply, it’s an extension of all of our islands homes in the Pacific, and each of our islands, be it Hawaii, Marianas, Marshallese, Samoans, they all have different ideas and relationships with these islands,” Cody said.

“This is some of the last intact healthy marine ecosystems that we have in the world with such huge swaths of marine wilderness, and when we come from communities of voyagers and wayfinders, it takes places like the Pacific Remote Islands to train, understand and realize navigators and practitioners of these kinds of traditions.”

To learn more about the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition’s efforts to protect the area, click here.