Scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have recently spotted off the Californian coast a very rarely seen giant phantom jellyfish with 32 feet long tentacles. This elusive deep-sea creature was first officially documented in 1899. It has only been spotted 110 times in over 120 years, and has been captured on camera just nine times.
The giant phantom jellyfish (Stygiomedusa gigantea) is one of then largest invertebrate predators in the deep-sea ecosystem. It has an umbrella-shaped bell which can be up to 3.3ft wide, and four “paddle-like” arms that can reach a length of 32ft and are used to trap prey.
This purple-colored creature lives in the depths of the oceans, in regions up to 21,900ft deep. Although it has been spotted only off the coast of the Pacific, in the Gulf of Mexico, and near Japan, scientists believe it resides in all oceans, besides the Arctic. According to the sparse knowledge gathered so far, the giant phantom jellyfish feeds mostly on plankton and a variety of small fish that live deep underwater. However, more than a century after its discovery, not much is known about this strange animal.
“Even now, scientists still know very little about this animal,” the researchers from MBARI said. “The challenges of accessing its deep-water habitat contribute to the relative scarcity of sightings for such a large and broadly distributed species.” The most recent recording was done at a depth of 3,200ft in the Monterey Bay, with the help of an underwater robot.
Before underwater robots, or “remotely operated vehicles” (ROVs), were invented, experts used trawling nets to study creatures such as the giant phantom jellyfish. However, when such animals are captured and brought to the surface, their usually silky-looking frames turn to “gelatinous goo.” Thus, underwater robots remain the best tool to observe this mesmerizing creature in its natural habitat.
A recording of the recent sighting of the giant phantom jellyfish can be found here.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer