Over the past several years, marine biologists in Tasmania have been receiving calls about strange jellyfish sightings. Now, one of these unclassified creatures has finally washed up on shore — and it's a weird slimy beast, indeed.
The 5 foot (1.5 meter) long specimen was discovered by a family collecting shells on a beach in Howden, south of Hobart. After snapping a pic of the giant blob, they forwarded it to CSIRO, Australia's national science agency.
That got the attention of Lisa-ann Gershwin, a CSIRO biologist who's been hearing stories of this elusive animal in waters off Tasmania for more than a decade. She's calling it an "amazing find." The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
"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.
Gershwin believes the jellyfish is specific to Tasmanian waters and is different from other lion's mane jellyfish, the largest species of jellyfish known to science. It's got muscular, tentacle, and structural features that are distinctive from other lion's manes.
Biologists aren't sure why there's been a massive jellyfish bloom in Tasmanian waters, and what impacts this might have on the local ecosystem.
Perhaps they should consider the influence of global warming — scientists have predicted that jellyfish, among other creatures, actually stand to benefit from climate change.