Changing Planet

“Gob-Smackingly Huge” Jellyfish Washes Up in Australia

Australia’s largest jellyfish was found on the shores of a beach in Tasmania. (Photograph by Richard Lim)

A regular day at the beach led to a surprising scientific discovery for one family in Australia last month—local resident Richard Lim and his family spotted a shockingly large jellyfish at a beach in Howden, a small town in Tasmania.

The family did what anyone would do—take photos, of course—but they also shared the images with Lisa-ann Gershwin, a research scientist and jellyfish expert at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency.

Gershwin’s first reaction upon seeing the photos? Pure shock, despite the fact that she’d already known about the new species.

“I had seen what I thought were large specimens, but now we know they are practically babies in comparison,” she said. “In my 20-plus years of working with jellyfish, it is the largest jellyfish I have seen. It really is gob-smackingly huge.”

Classifying the Creature

The world’s largest known jellyfish is Cyanea arctica, and it can grow to 3 meters across the bell, the central body of the jellyfish. Gershwin said the newfound specimen should also belong to the Cyanea genus, which is called a lion’s mane jellyfish or a “snottie” thanks to its extremely slimy disposition.

This particular jellyfish is still new to science, however. “It belongs to a species that isn’t yet named and classified,” Gershwin said. “It has structural features that make it distinct from other species of lion’s manes.” (Related: “For a Nearly Hundred-foot-long Jellyfish, It’s Christmas All Year.”)

While there’s little doubt that this jellyfish is Australia’s largest, the researchers do not have an exact measurement for it because the bell is buried under the milky substance otherwise known as “oral arms” used for feeding and reproduction.

But when it comes to the sting factor for this specimen, Gershwin said its stings are painful, but not life threatening. She also added that while you could be well away from it in the water, you may still feel its stings—lion’s mane jellyfish tend to fragment when they get beached, leaving lots of “microscopic stingy bits” in the surrounding water. (Related: “Should Marathon Swimmers Suit Up Against Jellies?“)

Doing Better Science

In the last two months, southern Tasmania has experienced a jellyfish bloom that Gershwin said is unprecedented for the area—much bigger, denser, and longer than previous years. The researchers at CSIRO are working to determine what effect it is having on the ecosystem and whether or not this is an indicator that something may be out of balance.

The jellyfish in the photo washed back into the water with the next tide, but Gershwin is still working to learn more about the new species by studying a smaller preserved specimen. “About a month ago, I was able to finally get photos and specimens of this species, so that gave me the opportunity to study it and confirm that it’s new to science. Then this photo comes to me that is clearly the same species, but a whole lot bigger than I imagined it might get,” she said.

“It simply is a spectacular find, and I applaud the Lim family for going to the trouble to take the photo and send to it to us for ID. It’s a great example of the curious public helping scientists do better science.”

Sonia Harmon is the blog coordinator at National Geographic. She has also written for Ladies' Home Journal magazine and Washingtonian magazine.
  • Casey

    Oh my god, that thing is huge.

  • CL

    Wow! It doesn’t even look like a real jellyfish out of water! I wonder if they researched about this specimen more.

  • McJohnson

    @Casey That’s what she said!!!!

  • Gracie

    I hope you will see this comment!

    Hi Sonny,
    I’m so proud to see your picture attached to this unbelievable article! I know mom and dad is proud…we had dinner with them last night!!

    Happy Future to You and Nat. Geo!!!!
    gracie

  • sena

    its amazing what is that thing?

  • sena

    huge jellyfish!!!

  • Aidan

    Amazing jelly

  • Michael

    The reason for the increased number of large jellyfish being spotted is due to overfishing. Killing sharks and other key predator species is reeking havoc on the food chain and creating an imbalance.

  • VIKAS

    Very interesting 🙂 fish

  • Ashley s

    Why would you touch that thing O.o? It’s kind of neat thou. 🙂

  • Eddie Paul Saballa

    Hi there Sonia… Where exactly is this beach in Tasmania, if you dont mind… tnx… huge jelly btw… sad that its dead though…

    • Sonia Harmon

      Hi Eddie, the family spotted the jellyfish at North West Bay, and the jellyfish may still be alive—Lisa believes it washed back into the water with the next tide.

  • Eddie Paul Saballa

    Tnx Sonia…

  • Patricia Rivera

    Amazing! I thought the the Portuguese Man of War was the largest jellyfish, but I just read in the internet that it is not a jellyfish, it’s a marine cnidarian.

  • Narendra Singh

    Really looks like a frozen JELLY FISH

  • sabir jan

    is this the largest in the world ??is taht dead or alive???

  • xabir jan

    what was their felling during touhing it???

  • satveer

    oh …!god !!!
    its so biggest…

  • Trevor

    Hi sonia. I aslo walked on the beach a month ago. A family was huddled around a big spot for quite a while and left. I went to see what they were looking at. It was white with this bad smell that stung the air. (either the family, sea, or thing) Also, It was HUGE!!! I didn’t know what it was but when I placed my hand on it I instantly started smiling. The same feeling I had when I touched a big jelly fish 3 weeks ago. I gently put it in the water for it needed it and now I see it on news. No one said anything about me. And sonia. Tell lisa that the tide didn’t take it away. I thought it would live longer in the water then suffer the pain on land. I’m sorry if this angers people

  • David Henry

    Too bad i couldn’t see it. I was on the beach a month ago. 🙁

  • Lee Miller

    Those kids might want to watch out. That thing looks like something that tried to eat Steve McQueen!

  • edna

    life is beautiful and ever changing. we are not the be all life goes on with or with out us. recycle use cloth bags stainless steel water bottles fix old things and thrift shop that’s the part I can do.

  • Eric

    Nature is at no threat from humans. She will populate her ecosystems with beings we can’t eat. By and large people fear for the extinction of our fellows creatures, upon which we depend for our own survival.

  • Dx baba

    I like it…

  • Alice Little

    Very huge are they that big from the part of the ocean they are in? Could this jelly fish be deadly? What was the cause for it to be pushed out of the ocean? Very interesting 🙂

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