They caught this bitty blob on camera.
An all-virtual underwater expedition by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has uncovered a new species of ctenophore, or comb jelly.
“It’s unique because we were able to describe a new species based entirely on high-definition video,” said NOAA scientist Allen Collins in a press release.
Using a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, named Deep Discoverer, Collins and his fellow researchers were able to spot the blob-like being and shoot sufficiently high-definition video of it to confirm it is a never-before-seen species — all without obtaining any physical samples from the creature. The video is the only evidence that the species, named Duobrachium sparksae, exists.
“We didn’t have sample-collection capabilities on the ROV at the time,” said Collins, adding that even if they did, “gelatinous animals” like the new comb jelly “don’t preserve very well” — meaning they would have had extremely limited time to “process it.”
The ROV lacked the same microscopes the scientists would have in a lab, but “the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects,” said Collins.
Video identification can be controversial, Collins acknowledges: “For example, some insect species descriptions have been done with low-quality imagery, and some scientists have said they don’t think that’s a good way of doing things. But for this discovery we didn’t get any pushback. It was a really good example of how to do it the right way with video.”
Collins and his colleagues published a study on the new genus this month in the journal Plankton and Benthos Research, although they first saw the deep-sea critter in 2015, while on a dive 4,000 meters down off the coast of Puerto Rico.
Despite their name, comb jellies and jellyfish are not closely related, the press release clarifies.