This was a year of unprecedented firsts. In addition to surprising political outcomes, 2016 gifted us with wonders that had never been filmed before.
Some of these videos offered an intimate look at unique animal behavior, like a spider’s sexy dance moves. Others simply showed us the incredible variety of the natural world, such as googly-eyed sea creatures and ghost sharks. (Watch: “Our 10 Favorite Animal Videos of 2016.”)
Still others told us about the past, such as an exclusive peek at Christ’s tomb and a dinosaur tail preserved in amber.
Who knows what discoveries will come in the new year? For now, here’s a countdown of the ten best videos of “firsts” in 2016.
10. The Sexy Dance Moves of Male Peacock Spiders
Male peacock spiders dance as part of their mating ritual, and each of the 48 known species has its own unique set of moves. Published in June, the above video captured the dances of six newly discovered species for the first time.
9. Blood-Red Worms That Thrive in a Toxic Cave
In June, National Geographic released an exclusive video about the discovery of tiny, blood-red worms that live in Sulfur Cave in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
The amazing worms, which can thrive in an atmosphere deadly to many creatures (including people), turned out to be a new species. These tiny worms could even offer clues to the kinds of life that might be found on other planets.
8. ‘Ghost Octopus’ Found Lurking in the Deep Sea
This footage of a ghostly octopod spooked scientists in March when they spied it in near Hawaii, a mile and a half under the sea. They immediately knew that they were looking at something that hadn’t been documented before.
In addition to being a new kind of creature, it’s also the deepest-dwelling octopod without fins ever found. Scientists noted that this sea creature has very few muscles; that’s likely because food is scarce in the deep.
7. Watch Coral Bleaching Happen Before Your Eyes
Research shows that climate change is harming the planet, but sometimes it’s difficult for us to visualize what that looks like. This August time-lapse video, the first ever to document coral bleaching, brings the phenomenon into sharp focus.
Coral bleaching occurs when warmer than usual sea temperatures force corals to expel their colorful symbiotic algae, which is also the corals’ food source. This turns the coral itself bone white and often leads to starvation.
In April, a comprehensive new map revealed that up to 93 percent of Australia’s famed Great Barrier Reef is suffering from the effects of bleaching.
6. Decomposing Dolphin Brings New Life to Seafloor
What happens after a dolphin dies? To find out, marine biologist and National Geographic grantee Eddie Kisfaludy placed a dead dolphin that had washed up on shore at the bottom of the ocean off Southern California and installed cameras near it.
The result was the first time-lapse video to show how a dolphin decomposes. Watch the June video to see the dolphin’s carcass become, as Kisfaludy says, “a whole ecosystem playground for lots of different animals.”
5. Adorable Googly-Eyed Sea Creature Puzzles Scientists
“It’s like some little kid dropped their toy,” laughs a researcher in this video, looking at this outlandishly adorable sea creature.
The team aboard the research ship Nautilus was combing the sea floor off California in August when they spotted this googly-eyed critter. They wondered aloud—is it an octopus, a cuttlefish, or something else? Watch the first video documenting one of these creatures to find out.
4. Remarkably Preserved Dinosaur Feathered Tail Discovered in Amber
In December, we got a rare gift: a glimpse of a 99-million-year-old dinosaur’s tail. The tail—which includes bones, soft tissue, and even feathers—was found preserved in amber.
While individual dinosaur-era feathers have already been discovered in amber, and evidence for feathered dinosaurs is captured in fossil impressions, this is the first time that scientists clearly associated well-preserved feathers with a dinosaur. The video provides a look at this amazing discovery.
3. Male Polar Bear Chases and Eats Cub
In February, a National Geographic expedition filmed an act that’s rarely seen and was never before filmed: Polar bear cannibalism.
“It’s likely something that will occur more often as more and more ice melts through climate change and food becomes less readily available to polar bears on the ice.”
Viewer discretion is advised.
2. A Closer Look Inside Christ's Unsealed Tomb
In October, researchers in Jerusalem excavated what is traditionally considered Jesus Christ’s tomb, marking the first time in centuries that anyone has opened it.
After removing the marble covering that had been covering the tomb since at least 1555, the team found a layer of filler material. Under that, they discovered another marble slab—this one with a cross imprinted on it that might date to as early as the Crusades. At the bottom they found the tomb’s original limestone bed, intact.
“We can't say 100 percent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time, something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades,” says Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic's archaeologist-in-residence.
And finally …
1. ‘Ghost Shark’ Caught on Camera for the First Time
The internet was on fire in December with what is believed to be the first video of a “ghost shark” species called the pointy-nosed blue chimaera.
These deep-sea creatures are related to sharks and rays and rarely seen. Now the video, captured by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, has given us all an up-close look at these mysterious creatures.