What in the World???

We collected what might be our final sediment cores today in an area known as Cranton Bay. I was scooping out a sample from the 0-2 cm layer when I noticed something firm and cylindrical in the mud. Rachel grabbed a pair of tweezers and started to pull, gradually extracting a 4-inch long tube formed from sediment. Through a slight puncture caused by the sharp metal tweezers, we could see that some sort of creature had built itself a burrow and that we had captured it in our core.

A burrow discovered in a sediment sample
A 4" constructed burrow found in a sediment sample from Cranton Bay, Antarctica.

Rachel carefully cut open the tunnel and revealed the thing inside it - which I have to admit I was grateful to see was already dead because it looked ugly enough to have attacked and seriously wounded at least three of us before we could manage to subdue it. We saw spikes and, for lack of a more appropriate scientific term, goo.

Slicing open the burrow
A scalpel is used to slide open the sediment burrow and reveal the organism inside. Cranton Bay, Antarctica.

Although I have never been brave enough to watch the movie "Alien," I imagine this thing appeared similar to the creature that erupts from Sigourney Weaver's stomach.

A polychaete worm discovered in a sediment sample
An unknown species of polychaete worm discovered in a sediment sample from Cranton Bay, Antarctica.

All sediment processing stopped while a bunch of scientists who know very little about invertebrate biology gathered around the table and tried to figure out what we were looking at.

Scientists observe a polychaete worm found in a sediment sample
Geologists and oceanographers react to a polychaete worm discovered in a sediment sample. From left to right: Rachel Clark, Rob Larter, Lily Dove, Lars Boehme, and Ali Graham.

Although we don't have the skills to identify it down to species (especially not in its partially-wrecked state), we are pretty sure it is some sort of polychaete - also known as a bristle worm. They are in the same class of invertebrates as earthworms and are often found in marine habitats. More than 10,000 species have been described, many of which are significantly better-looking than our monstrous little discovery. They are a pretty fascinating group, and I would recommend googling them to learn more - or at the very least, consult the 2017 offline Wikipedia page for additional information.

Author
Date
Location
Onboard the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker in the Amundsen Sea off the southwest coast of Antarctica.
Weather Summary
Scattered snow showers and gray skies with light winds out of the north.
Temperature
-1.6˚C
Wind Speed
7 knots
Wind Chill
-7.4˚C

Comments

Bridget

That looks gross but so cool! I thought it was going to be frozen poop!

Sarah S.

It has been brought to my attention that the alien does not burst out of Sigourney Weaver's chest, but rather it explodes from the chest of the character played by John Hurt. I guess that just goes to prove that I have not actually ever seen Alien.

Louis Bonini

You can tell the person that corrected you that depending on which Alien movie you may have referred to, yes an alien does burst from Sigourney Weaver's chest during Alien 3. And in a nightmare in Alien 2. And she is genetically modified in Alien Resurrection to have Alien DNA but no chest bursting for her just an uncomfortable mother child relationship with an alien.

Anna Arends

That is so weird and gross looking! I thought it was poop!