'psychedelic" medusa jellyfish

Researchers say it's possible a rare "psychedelic" medusa jellyfish that a remote sub videoed off Puerto Rico could be found in the deep Atlantic off South Carolina. NOAA/Provided

The remote control sub was down in the sea almost deeper than where most life is found. A few corals were spotted, a few sponges.

Then something magical appeared — a brilliant red and translucent medusa jellyfish shaped like a tea cup, with tentacles spread in all directions like electric-shocked hair standing on end. It hovered over the sea floor, its tentacles weaving like limbs in an exotic dance.

"Wow. Very cool. Psychedelic," said Stacey Williams, of the Institute for Socio-Ecological Research and Coastal Survey Solutions, one of the lead scientists watching the video feed aboard the NOAA research ship Okeanos.

"Deep sea fireworks," said Steve Auscavitch, a Temple University biologist and the other lead scientist.

The finding earlier this month was made by an unmanned sub more than a half-mile deep in waters off Puerto Rico. Operators aboard the Okeanos Explorer, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research ship, handled the sub and live-streamed the video to scientists and students on land.

The depths have never been explored in detail before, much less studied. The jelly has rarely been seen in the Atlantic. The trip followed an exploration off South Carolina earlier this year that found ribs of seafloor high ground replete with coral beds and other rarely seen creatures, along with striking rock formations and spewing methane vents.

The otherworldly organisms the sub is revealing and collecting include new species similar to ones that already have produced breakthrough medicines.

It's possible the jelly the researchers dubbed "psychedelic medusa" also floats in deep waters off South Carolina, said Mike Ford, NOAA Fisheries researcher. And he means deep.

"Most of the observations we have made of these jellies in the Atlantic and in the Pacific are at depths close to or exceeding 1,000 meters (3,280 feet)," he said. Those depths can be found here off the Continental Shelf. The jelly might even be found closer in.

"We might make discoveries in the future that reveal new places to find this incredible little Rhopalonematid," Ford said.

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Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.