A previously unidentified species of giant jellyfish is invading southern Tasmania this summer, baffling scientists after one of the animals washed up on the beach.
And watch out – the new species is described as being a type of “snotty”.
The Lim family were collecting shells on a beach in Howden, south of Hobart, last month when they stumbled across a monster 1.5-metre jellyfish on the shore.
So unusual was the gigantic blob that the family took a photograph, and forwarded it to the CSIRO.
“In Tasmania, we don’t do jellyfish. This was something else. We’ve just never seen anything like it,” said Josie Lim of their find.
Little did the Lim family know that, over at the CSIRO, Dr Lisa-ann Gershwin, who has been working with jellyfish for 20 years, had been hearing stories of this elusive animal in waters off Tasmania for more than a decade.
“The thing that I first said when I saw it [the photograph] was ‘Phwoar’. It’s a very scientific term,” Dr Gershwin said.
“I’m just rapt by it, honestly. It’s such an amazing find.”
Dr Gershwin said curious people had been asking her for years about a big, white-ish jellyfish “with pink in the middle” in waters off Tasmania.
The jellyfish was said to grow quite large, and wasn’t spotted very often.
It was not a species Dr Gershwin was familiar with.
“Probably about five years ago I finally put together in my head that there were really three different species of lion’s mane jellyfish in Tasmania, or ‘snotties’ as they’re also called. Yes snotties, they’re a bit slimy,” she said.
In the years since, Dr Gershwin managed to obtain samples of two of the three species of jellyfish, which previously were unknown to science.
The third proved to be more difficult to track down – until this summer.
“All of a sudden I started getting all these calls, and all these people sending me photographs. Sure enough this thing is an absolute menace this season; it’s been around in large numbers,” she said.
Dr Gershwin had obtained a sample of the jellyfish a few days after Christmas, but it was nowhere near as big as the specimen the Lim family later found.
“It boggles the mind. I mean, it’s so big. I knew that the species gets fairly large, but I didn’t know that it gets that large. It was really a surprise to me when they forwarded the photo to me,” she said.
Dr Gershwin believes the jellyfish is only found in waters off southern Tasmania, and was distinctive from other types of lion’s manes.
“There are muscular features and tentacle features and structural features of the animal that are distinctive in this species from other lion’s manes, or snotties,” Dr Gershwin said.
But scientists are still stumped about why there has been a massive jellyfish bloom in Tasmanian waters over the past month.
“We don’t actually know what’s going on that’s led, not only to this species, but many, many types of jellyfish blooming in massive numbers,” she said.
“Jellyfish do bloom as a normal part of their life cycle, but not usually this many.
“There’s something going on and we don’t know what it is. To me, the real question is … what impact are all of these mouths having on the ecosystem, and what in turn does that mean to us?”
Dr Gershwin said she would forward the jellyfish specimen that she obtained to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s collection.
She already has a name picked out for the new species, and now will go about the process of getting it formally named and classified.
That name will remain secret, at least for now.
“There’s a funny thing in science where, if you use a name publicly before going through the formal classification process, it kind of invalidates the name,” she said.
“The next stop from here is to get the critter formally named and classified. Because I’ve got all three new species of lion’s manes from southern Tasmania, I’m going to describe them together in the same paper.”