Spanish researchers swam with a huge jellyfish off the coast of northern Spain that is usually only found in Arctic waters.
Manuel E. Garci, biologist at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), was taking samples of the algae Laminaria ochroleuca as part of the Herikep project with the A Coruna University in the north-western Spanish region of Galicia on March 3.
He was accompanied by three female researchers from A Coruna University, Cristina Corbeira, Sara Barrientos, and Isabella Provera, as well as boat captain and the owner of the Islas Cies diving centre, Inaqui Ferreiro, and diver Miguel Boquete.
Garci said that they were heading back to the port when they spotted something that ‘we first thought was a giant plastic object thrown in the sea, but we later realised it was a Lion’s mane jellyfish’.
He said they decided to film the huge Lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), also called the arctic red jellyfish, and that it was around 1.5 metres in diameter with four-metre long tentacles.
Garci said: ‘One tentacle even got stuck on my camera.’
The individual the group came across in northern Spain was small for its species as Lion’s mane jellyfish can often grow to around 37 metres in length.
The biologist said: ‘I have never seen anything like it here before. In fact, I want to find out if it is the first time one has ever been seen in our waters.’
Garci added that the species is commonly found in Arctic waters.
The Lion’s mane jellyfish, one of the largest known species of jellyfish, is commonly found in the Arctic, northern Atlantic, and northern Pacific Oceans. It is also common in the English Channel, Irish Sea, North Sea, and in western Scandinavian waters.
However, it remains unclear how one apparently made its way as far south as Spain. Garci said this winter saw several arrivals of jellyfish species off the coast of Galicia, including the Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis).
Garci added: ‘There were a lot of storms this winter and here we can see subtropical waters around the Azores and Madeira islands entering Galician waters.’
He said that a stranded loggerhead sea turtle was rescued near the port on the same day that they saw the giant jellyfish, suggesting that ‘something strange is happening in our waters’.
Garci advised people to stay away from such jellyfish as they pack a sting, ‘no matter how attractive they appear’.
He said: ‘There are dangerous jellyfish around, but at the same time they are a gift of nature.’