A squid that resembles a character from The Muppets and another with fins likened to Mickey Mouse's ears are among a weird mix of newly discovered New Zealand sea creatures.
The freshly described cephalopods – a class that includes squids and octopuses - highlight the abundance of life out in our vast marine estate still waiting to be revealed.
The specimens were collected by Niwa during an expedition to the Kermadecs, before being defrosted and analysed by researchers at AUT's squid lab.
"This is my students' favourite part of the work we do — we call it 'squid Christmas' because Niwa keeps these wonderful boxes of frozen surprises for us, and we never know what we're going to find inside," said Dr Kat Bolstad, a senior lecturer at AUT's Institute for Applied Ecology.
"This was a particularly good squid Christmas."
Of 150 cephalopod specimens collected, they identified 43 species, including 13 species that had not been previously found anywhere in New Zealand waters.
"We have a pretty good idea of what's already known from the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as we've been working on deep-sea squid here for nearly 20 years, so sometimes we see something we know hasn't been found here before and we know right away that it's a new record," Bolstad said.
In other times, the researchers came across species that looked like others that are found in other parts of the world, save for slightly different features.
With DNA analysis, they could often reveal that these populations had been evolving separately for millions of years, and should be considered a different species.
"Sometimes these animals have long been known from New Zealand and have historically been called the same name here as in other parts of the world, but we realise that they're actually new to science and now need to be formally described and named," Bolstad said.
"In this study, we found about five likely new species that fall into this category."
The 13 fresh species were a colourful bunch.
They included what Bolstad described as a "dumpling squid" – a small, round animal with Mickey-Mouse-ear-like fins and large eyes – and a "comb-fin squid" that she said slightly resembled Uncle Deadly from The Muppets.
Then there were several octopuses, including "a nearly transparent, ball-of-jelly-like one" called Bolitaena, some "jewel squids" studded with light organs, and "glass squids" that looked a little like inflated plastic bags.
"Every time we look in any part of the ocean that hasn't been thoroughly sampled, we find new things," she said.
"And in fact, we are still turning up new species in places we thought we knew very well, such as the Chatham Rise, one of New Zealand's most heavily fished regions."
It's been previously estimated that more than 15,000 species inhabit our territorial seas and EEZ - but there might be another 50,000 yet to be found.
"Overall we've only explored a tiny fraction of the ocean—between 2 per cent and 15 per cent depending on how you calculate it—and we estimate that, of all species on Earth, about 14 per cent have been recognised by humans," Bolstad said.
"So to say that there is more to discover is a bit of an understatement.
"This study tells us that we have plenty more to do, even close to home—that every time we look closely, we are likely to find new things."
In addition to the Kermadecs cephalopod species the researchers believed were new to science, there were at least 25 more awaiting description from other parts of New Zealand.
"So we've got our work cut out for us—and we love it, and we're excited to go to work every day to keep making these discoveries."