The mysteries of the deep sea never cease to amaze, and the biodiversity of its marine life is each time more enchanting, mystifying, and even terrifying to some degree. In November, during their explorations of the inky black depths of the Pacific, researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) came face to face with one of these wonders. While gathering data at around 3,200 feet deep with one of their remotely operated vehicles (ROV), they were rewarded with a rare sighting of the stygiomedusa gigantae—better known as the giant phantom jellyfish.
The name phantom is quite fitting because encounters with these elegant, ghostly creatures are few and far between. Though they can reside anywhere between the surface and depths of up to almost 22,000 feet, the elusive jelly is most often found in the midnight zone, which lies between 3,280 and 13,120 feet beneath the surface. And out of thousands of deep-sea dives logged by their ROVs, the research institute has only spotted this enigmatic species a total of nine times. MBARI also reports that, since its discovery in 1899, scientists have only encountered the giant phantom jellyfish about 100 times in total. Luckily, this time it was caught on video.
In the footage, the beautiful creature's billowing tentacles flutter in the water like delicate curtains of silk blown by a gentle breeze. The flowing forms look as if they should belong in a high-fashion underwater photoshoot rather than on the body of a gigantic deep-sea creature. With its bell measuring more than 3 feet across, the giant phantom jellyfish’s four “ribbon-like” arms function as mouths and can grow to be more than 33 feet in length. Its gelatinous form—which appears to be a deep reddish-brown hue in the murky depths—is also tinged with brilliant swathes of red that almost seem to glow. The jelly's graceful movements, so smooth and fluid, almost look as if they were choreographed for an enchanted underwater ballet.
Scroll down to see MBARI’s mesmerizing deep-sea footage of the extraordinary giant phantom jellyfish. For more deep-sea creature discoveries, visit their website.