Deep sea explorers just discovered a lost World War II era aircraft carrier off the California coast

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The scientific expedition Nautilus, led by the famous explorer Robert Ballard, has had an eventful year.

Besides plying the seas around Canada, they have confronted a sperm whale and filmed several little-known species, including a purple, googly-eyed cuttlefish that looked like a Pac-Man ghost. For the last month, the ship and its scientific crew have been prowling the dark depths off the coast of California, and (literally) bringing to light a kaleidoscopic array of life that most people have never seen.

As you can see in the video above, they recently found a sunken World War II era aircraft carrier, once thought lost.

The USS Independence served three years in the Pacific theater during the war. Afterwards, she was used as a steel-hulled guinea pig to test the effects of two hydrogen bomb blasts during the 1946 Operation Crossroads experiments near the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific.

Somehow, she survived all that and then came to an anticlimactic end in the frigid seas off of San Francisco, near the shark-infested Farallones Islands, where the US Navy scuttled her in 1951 out of concern that her hull was radioactive. For forty years, no one knew quite where she was, and being so deep, the technology to find her required great expense. In 1990, a US Geological Survey expedition finally found her and mapped the location.

The Nautilus team sent two remotely operated vehicles (ROV) a half mile below the ocean and came upon the rusting stern of the Independence sitting up straight in the sand, as if awaiting her next deployment. The ship is now swarming with life, including hundreds of otherworldly glass sponges that look like they came from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book.  It’s the first time the ship has been seen in 65 years.

One big surprise was the discovery of an F6F Hellcat aircraft within the carrier’s hangar bay, a sight that drew gasps from the talkative crew.

The Nautilus team will continue exploring off the California coast through mid-September.