AUSTRALIA’S most knowledgeable source on marine stingers is investigating sightings of a mystery species of jellyfish at Coffs Harbour Marina.
World-renowned researcher Associate Professor Jamie Seymour has positively identified the multi-tentacled marine animal as box jellyfish.
Scientists say they could be ‘a non-lethal species of the jellyfish’, given they are much smaller than the lethal box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri), and do not resemble the tiny Irukandji, also found off North Queensland.
Rick O’Ferrall, of Solitary Island Game Fishing Club, brought the find to the attention of scientists saying the jellyfish have regularly been spotted around boat moorings this summer.
Images of the jellyfish were taken last week by game boat crew member Jason Everson, sparking all sorts of theories over their origins.
One chain of thought is that they are a previously unknown local species, while it’s also been suggested they may have hitchhiked south on unusually warm ocean currents or even in bilge water from travelling vessels.
Southern Cross University researchers are working with Professor Seymour, from James Cook University’s School of Marine and Tropical Biology in Cairns, and hope to catch a live specimen for analysis.
“As for the animal (pictured), it is definitely a variety of box jellyfish. The question remains what species it is and can one be caught,” Professor Seymour said.
His life-long research has led him to the conclusion that under climate change jellyfish are travelling south, particularly as sea water temperatures rise.
“But make no mistake, these creatures aren’t reliant on warm water, they have traditionally been confined to tropical waters in Northern Australia but they can travel.
The main reason box jellyfish aren’t prevalent further south is because they cannot survive wave action. They don’t exist on beaches with waves.
Those involved in the project have been cautious not to be ‘alarmist’.
After a number of sightings, the SCU’s Dr Danny Bucher reported the find on local radio yesterday.
“There are box jellyfish found around Port Douglas, which do not possess a life-threatening sting, perhaps these animals are the same species,” researchers said.
Coffs Harbour lifeguard Greg Hackfath and local life saving clubs have been made aware of the find.
The jellyfish photographed near the first ‘e’ finger at the marina may present a danger to humans and members of the public are urged not to handle them.
“Straight away there was no mistaking what it was because of the tentacles,” photographer Mr Everson said.
“I got these shots of the jellyfish and also 10 seconds of pretty rough vision.”
The images were sent to the SCU’s National Marine Science Centre.
“I have personally seen several of these in the quiet waters of the marina this summer and would therefore like to know just what they are so that I can set the record straight with our club members,” Mr O’Ferrall said.
Cairns-based researchers say they will fly to Coffs Harbour when one of the jellyfish is caught.
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