potential-new-species-of-dazzling-box-jellyfish-spotted-near-the-great-barrier-reef

Potential New Species of Dazzling Box Jellyfish Spotted Near the Great Barrier Reef


A scuba diver swimming off the coast Papua New Guinea, near the Great Barrier Reef, has recorded video of a dazzling, weird jellyfish that one expert believes stands as a new species.


In December of 2021 scuba diver Dorian Borcherds recorded a brief yet clear video of a unique jellyfish “a bit bigger than a soccer ball” with “cool markings” while swimming near the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Now, one jellyfish expert believes the strange, beautiful creature is a new species of box jellyfish—specifically a relative of another, similar, equivalently mysterious box jellyfish discovered off the coast of northeast Queensland in May of 1997.

As Australia‘s ABC News outlet reports Borcherds, the owner of Scuba Ventures Kavieng—a scuba rental and training company located in the chief port of the island of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea—was on a dive with a customer when he eyed the mesmerizing jellyfish. “Saw a new type of jellyfish while diving today,” Borcherds wrote on the Scuba Ventures Facebook page alongside crystal-clear video of the jelly. “It has cool markings and is a bit bigger than a soccer ball and [it is] quite fast swimming,” he added.

Unable to figure out which species the jellyfish belonged to Borcherds subsequently turned to his daughter in South Africa for help identifying it. She couldn’t figure out its identity either, however, so she uploaded the footage to a “jellyfish app” and soon heard back from “an excited jellyfish expert on the phone from Tasmania.” That expert, ABC News notes, was Lisa-ann Gershwin—a Tasmania-based biologist who has described over 200 species of jellyfish.

“I was complete gobsmacked [sic] when they sent me through the photos,” Gershwin told ABC News. “This species had only been spotted once on the Great Barrier Reef in the 1990s” the jellyfish expert added.

The species spotted and collected for study in the ’90s was classified as Chirodectes maculatus—a very rare type of venomous box jellyfish in the family Chirodropidae. Later on, in 2005, the team of Australian scientists responsible for the jellyfish’s discovery described it in the scientific literature, originally placing it in the genus Chiropsalmus. Gershwin herself published a paper a year later moving the creature into the genus Chirodectes, however.

Borcherds and his daughter sent me the video and I was able to go through it frame by frame,” Gershwin told ABC News. “We compared the two separate jellyfish and I concluded that the one filmed off Papua New Guinea [by Mr Borcherds] is a new undiscovered species.”

Image: Scuba Ventures Kavieng via The Guardian

As the Guardian Australia reports on YouTube (in the description beneath the video immediately above), there is at least one other scientist who is not convinced this specimen constitutes a new species. “Jamie Seymour, a toxicologist from James Cook University who specializes in Australia’s venomous animals, is unsure” if this creature stands as a new species The Guardian says. Seymour reportedly leans toward the jellyfish in Borcherds’ sighting as being only another example of Chirodectes maculatus.

Even Gershwin herself cautions against declaring this specimen as a new species with overwhelming certainty at this juncture. “It’s not technically discovered until it has been formally named and classified,” the biologist told ABC News. Declaring the existence of a new species “is considered like a hypothesis,” Gershwin added. “[I]t has to be tested.”


Feature image: Scuba Ventures Kavieng via The Guardian

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