NEW SPECIES OF JELLYFISH FOUND
Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute scientists first noticed 'Big Red' in 1998
By NICOLE STRICKER
Lurking in the deep waters off the coast is an alien creature that has never been documented. Until now.
A large crimson jellyfish, measuring up to 3 feet across, officially has been named a new species, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute scientists announced this week.
The animal, dubbed Tiburonia granrojo, resides more than 2,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific.
T. granrojo, or "Big Red," was photographed off the Northern California coast by MBARI's remotely operated vehicles, which execute deep-sea research missions. In fact, the first part of the jelly's name honors MBARI's Tiburon vehicle, which took its name from the Spanish word for shark.
"The first time we noticed it was in 1998," said George Matsumoto, an MBARI biologist. "A geologist took some pictures during an expedition and said, 'What is this?'"
The geologists brought their pictures to Matsumoto, a jellyfish expert and lead author of the article describing the creature in the journal Marine Biology.
"We went back through our videos and found we'd been seeing it since 1993 but hadn't recognized it as new and different," Matsumoto said.
"It was a little embarrassing that a geologist had to point it out to us," he said, explaining that he and his colleagues had mistaken the animal for another type of red jellyfish.
But unlike other jellies, Big Red captures food with four to seven chunky arms covered with wartlike stingers. The fact that the number of arms varies among the creatures is also unusual.
The only member of the new tribe collected intact is a tiny eight inches wide, and it is now being studied at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Matsumoto said.
Scientists don't know what they eat, how they reproduce, or even if the ones they've seen are males or females.
Once scientists realized the jelly was distinctive, they delved into scientific literature to see if the creature had ever been reported. After confirming it had not, Matsumoto's team set about classifying Big Red in the jellyfish hierarchy.
The animal is so distinctive that not only is it in its own genus -- normally made up of several closely related species -- but scientists also created a new subfamily, one classification level higher, to accommodate the addition.
Although Big Red is unique, it doesn't seem to be rare. Since the jellyfish entered marine biologists' radar, the creatures also have been spotted in deep waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Japan.
Now that Big Red officially is a new species, marine biologists hope to learn more about where and how it lives.
"One reason we tried to publish the article is so we can ask all our colleagues to start looking for it," Matsumoto said.
The biologist said this discovery highlights how little scientists know about deep-sea marine life.
"When we find something this big that we didn't know about, it's a good example that we don't know very much about the small stuff in this region," Matsumoto said. "I think the deep sea is virtually unexplored."
In the cold, dark waters north of the Farallon Islands, nearly a mile beneath the surface, scientists have discovered a new species of huge jellyfish with a striking red bell that grows more than a yard wide and has a cluster of wrinkled, fleshy arms instead of streaming tentacles.
They call it Big Red, and its entire life is a mystery. The researchers don't know whether the ones they have observed are males or females, they don't know how they reproduce, and they don't know what they eat or what eats them.
They do know that the jellyfish has anywhere from four to seven thick arms and uses them for eating. It also carries wartlike clusters of stinging cells. They think -- but don't know -- that it may prey on smaller jellies for food.
In a formal scientific report on the new tribe of jellies, marine biologists led by George Matsumoto of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing have announced that so far 23 members of the curious species have been found in the Sea of Cortez, in Monterey Bay itself, off the coast north of the Farallones and off Hawaii and Japan. It appears to live at depths of 2,000 to 4,800 feet, they say.
Only one specimen of Big Red has been collected intact by the scientists so far, and this one is tiny: Its bell is only 8 inches wide, and it now lies pickled in a glass jar for scientists to study at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Matsumoto said.
But using the remote-controlled deep-diving submarine known as an ROV, for Remotely Operated Vehicle, Matsumoto and his team have obtained high- resolution video images of Big Red swimming and have managed to take tissue samples of one, including bits of its bell and its thick feeding appendages called oral arms. They have also begun sequencing its genetic material and have sent the sequence data to the government's National Center for Biotechnology Information.
From their samples, the scientists found that Big Red differs so much from all other species in a much larger family of jellies known as the Ulmaridae that they can call Big Red a unique member of a subfamily that the researchers now call Tiburoniinae.
So, to scientists who classify all living things systematically in their efforts to puzzle out their evolution, Big Red is now a unique species in a unique genus in a unique subfamily within its own larger family. Big Red's evolutionary ancestry and its living relatives -- if any -- must await further analysis of other specimens.
"For now," Matsumoto said in an interview, "the good news is that Big Red is unique and fascinating and exciting, while the bad news is that it takes so much more research work to classify it, to publish what we learn about it, and eventually to understand all the things we don't know about it. But even that's fun, too."
The tissue samples that Matsumoto obtained were collected from a specimen they found swimming next to an offshore volcanic mound on the ocean bottom called the Gumdrop Seamount, about 75 miles northwest of the Farallones.
At first, Matsumoto said, they named their specimen Gumdrop after the seamount, but they decided later to name the unique genus Tiburonia after the name of the Monterey Bay Aquarium research vessel Tiburon, whose crew controls the ROV, and named the species granrojo, meaning Big Red.
Matsumoto's formal report is published in the journal Marine Biology. His colleagues include Kevin Raskoff, a former research fellow at the Monterey Bay institute, and Dhugal Lindsay, of Japan's Marine Science and Technology Center.
DISTRIBUTION OF BIG RED
CORONATAE (crown jellyfishes)
RHIZOSTOMEAE (includes upsidedown jellyfishes)
STAUROMEDUSAE (stalked jellyfishes)
Ulmaridae (moon jellyfishes)
Tiburonia granrojo (big red)
Sources: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; National Center for Biotechnology Information
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I thought these two articles were pretty interesting...