Bizarre new jellyfish discovered 

A bizarre new species of jellyfish has been discovered in the deep waters off the Californian coast

The bell-shaped creature spans a metre in diameter and has been nicknamed "big red", because of its unusual deep red colour. The US and Japanese teams that discovered it say the species deserves its own subfamily.

The "big red" jellyfish uses its arms to feed (Image: MBARI)

Tiburonia granrojo was discovered using video cameras on deep-diving remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Its colour and shape set it apart from its other gelatinous relatives, but it has another unusual characteristic -- a complete lack of tentacles.

Instead, the jelly has four to seven fleshy arms that it uses to capture food. While jellyfish species normally can be distinguished by the number of tentacles they have, the number of arms differs between individual big reds.

"Diving almost every day, we tend to take for granted some of the unusual and even bizarre animals that we see in the deep ocean," says George Matsumoto at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, who led the study. "This just shows that we need to keep our eyes open, because there`still plenty to discover down there."

"It's very interesting, particularly the discovery of a large jellyfish," adds Doug Herdson, a marine biologist at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. "Off the US coast and so large is unusual."

Deep sea discoveries

The creatures live at depths of 650 to 1500 metres, and are named after the ROV that first stumbled across them off the Californian coast. Although the species was first observed in 1993, it has taken scientists until now to classify it and to confirm that it is indeed a new discovery. The jellies have now also been spotted in the Hawaiian islands and in Japanese waters by scientists at the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center.

But despite studying the elusive creatures for ten years, the researchers say there are still many questions they want to answer. "What does it eat? Who are its predators? And how does it reproduce? We have an idea of where it lives and continue to document sightings, but we have much to learn about its role in the ecosystem," says Matsumoto.

He adds that as scientists have missed a species of such a large size and range until now, there could be many more deep sea discoveries are waiting to be found. Herdson agrees. "There's no economic incentive to go sampling at that depth," he told New Scientist. "Most of what we know about the sea comes from fishing." Fishing is generally carried out at much shallower waters, because deep-sea fish are waxy and unpalatable. But as fish stocks decline, people are fishing deeper, he says, which could lead to more new discoveries.

Original source: New Scientist
Submit by CEIN  News on 6/11/2003