Humans have been exploring the Earth for millions of years, but the ocean remains largely a mystery. The secrets kept by the fathomless depths are virtually endless – there are countless known species of sea life and no doubt countless more we’ve yet to discover.
In comparison to the whole expanse of human history, deep sea exploration is brand new. The first humans to reach the deep sea did so less than 100 years ago, when they ventured to a depth of 1,427 feet and observed jellyfish and shrimp. Since then, scientists have discovered hundreds of new ocean species every year!
Just twenty years ago, deep sea researchers discovered one of the jellyfish’s most unusual relatives – the bloody-belly comb jelly. As its name suggests, the deep sea jellyfish’s belly glows blood red underwater. And though this might seem like it would attract predators, it actually works to repel them.
Researchers believe that its glowing red belly helps mask the bioluminescent light from any fish it consumes. Unlike the twinkling lights of its prey, the blood-red coloring of the deep sea jellyfish doesn’t attract predators.
According to George Matsumoto, research specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in California, the macabre sea creature lives between 984 and 9,842 feet beneath the surface. The glowing jelly has been found in both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean basins.
“We see them on most of our ROV [remotely operated underwater vehicle] dives,” Matsumoto told Newsweek. “So I would say that they are relatively common in the Eastern Pacific.”
Red-Bellied Deep Sea Jellies Aren’t True Jellyfish
So, it’s a little confusing, but jellyfish and jellies aren’t actually the same thing. They do closely resemble each other, as they’re both gelatinous marine animals, and they’re distantly related. But while all jellyfishes are jellies, not all jellies are jellyfish.
The bloody-belled jelly is a ctenophore, or comb jelly, with eight bands of hair-like cilia that propel them through the water rather than tentacles. Despite their somewhat menacing (albeit mesmerizing) appearance, the deep sea comb jelly also doesn’t have stinging cells like a jellyfish.
As Matsumoto explained, the bloody-belly jellyfish represents an entirely new species of deep sea comb jellies, making them even more fascinating. “They are gorgeous – but that is in the eye of the beholder and I might be a little biased,” Matsumoto admitted.
Though he was part of the original research team to discover the deep sea jellyfish, Matsumoto knows he and his team’s understanding of the creature is far from complete. “It is likely that there are more species in this genus as we have been seeing some diversity in coloration and canal structure,” he said.
The staff at MBARI has been working hard to understand the care the strange creatures require. Unfortunately, however, they’ve proven exceedingly difficult to maintain outside of the wild, as they’re “incredibly fragile.”
“The fact that the Aquarium has been able to display them in captivity is truly exceptional,” Matsumoto explained.