• Damon Swisher

BREAKING: New Species Discovered in Waters Off Puerto Rico

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

The news comes courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research as of 20 November 2020 - a new species of ctenophore has been discovered!

Ctenophores - the disco balls of the deep. They are minute killers of mystical flair; they are hypnotic carnivores of illusory laser shows. But don't worry, they aren't scary unless you are an unwitting larva or arthropod; for big bipeds like us, we'll never worry about being hunted by these things or see them as featured killers in Dead by Daylight or 20,000 Leagues Below.

But even so, what exactly are they? And what exactly did NOAA discover?

Image taken by NOAA deep sea high definition camera, 2015

Ctenophores, often referred to as comb jellies, are a curious little creature that exists throughout multiple zones of the ocean. They seem to happily float along consuming larva and other small bits as they go, though in actuality they are propelling themselves about on small hairs, called cilia, on their bodies. They come in some of the oddest shapes and sizes, referred to as flowers, balloons, stress balls, and probably more - but I think my favorite is Sea Ravers.

Comb Jellies (which actually aren't related to jellyfish at all, oops science!) are known for having dazzling light shows tracing the lengths of their bodies. Most people mistake this colorful, rainbow display on their otherwise transparent bodies as bioluminescence - in fact, it's caused by their row of cilia "combs" pulsating for locomotion, scattering and diffracting light into the beautiful colors we know them for.

This brings us to Duobrachium Sparksae, the species NOAA has been credited for discovering and most recently, describing.

Comb jelly morphological description, illustrated by Nicholas Bezio

NOAA's team from the Office of Exploration and Research departed to the waters near Puerto Rico for a scheduled underwater exploration mission in 2015, likely unsure they'd make such a shocking discovery. I imagine they had a nice time on the water, as the seas were fair those days and the sun made them want to relax and soak in the good vibes that only the Caribbean Sea can spare. They might have brought some fine rum from local distilleries wherever they departed from, and perhaps picked up some fresh fish or pork at nearby ports.

They dunked the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer down into those blue waters and powered up their fancy high definition camera, and then hunkered down for the haul of footage they'd be bringing in like a fisherman reeling up a marlin. But not many fisherman have ever reeled in something like this!

In 2015, NOAA managed to capture high definition footage of a seemingly rare new comb jelly - and they knew it was special in an instant. It was a "beautiful and unique organism" Mike Ford, one of the NOAA scientists credited for spotting the jelly, said. They were more than 4,000 meters down when the discovery was made, so they were unable to capture live samples - but their high definition capabilities made up for it tenfold.

In fact, it was their high definition footage that allows us to be here today talking about this, because through that footage, they were able to verify morphological differences between the new comb jelly and it's close cousins. "Video identification can be controversial," Allen Collins said, another scientist credited with the discovery, "But for this discovery we didn't get any pushback". They documented their discovery in this publication here.

Despite there being over 100 species of ctenophore currently, this new species is unique due to it's two long, yet defined, legs and it's unknown ecological role in the grand scheme. Unfortunately, NOAA scientists estimate it could be another decade - or longer - before we get another sighting of these, as their habitat isn't explored as much as it should be, I have probably mentioned this before but; did you know 95% of the ocean is still unexplored? Yeah, well, it's true. Luckily, they made three separate sightings of these comb jellies while on the expedition, which could be a sign they aren't as rare as previously thought.

If you enjoy reading about new species, check out our Marine Biology News section, or read about this rare squid species sighting that was also recently described here. You could also follow TheVast on Twitter to stay up-to-date with all our breaking articles and more! And don't forget to swing by our Youtube channel and see our informational videos.

You can also get a cool NOAA hoodie here: https://amzn.to/33gsUUb

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