New Brunswick may be home to the first bluefire jellyfish discovered in North America, experts say.
The bluefire normally lives on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean.
But a fisherman in Bocabec Bay spotted one near a herring weir in the Bay of Fundy this week and delivered it to the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St. Andrews.
"It is a very deep blue-purple. That would be the centre of it," said Genny Simard, the centre's senior interpreter.
"It does have a translucent fringe all the way around. And it's a good size. It's a good 18 inches [45 centimetres] across," she said.
'I saw the bright blue and I knew it was quite exceptional.' —Genny Simard, Huntsman Marine Science Centre
Simard said she initially thought it was a lion's mane jellyfish, which is more common in the Bay of Fundy, until she dropped it into one of the centre's illuminated tanks.
"I saw the bright blue and I knew it was quite exceptional," she said.
No one at the centre had seen anything like it before.
"We did quite a few searches through the many guides that we have here at the aquarium and couldn't come up with anything. So we sent it out there with a picture and right away we had a few specialists that wanted more information.
"And pretty soon, we knew it was a bluefire jellyfish, which is quite rare even in its native habitat, which would be around the British Isles, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and off the coast of Japan."
Plan to analyze DNA
Experts believe the jellyfish may have drifted to the Bay of Fundy on a rare east-west ocean current, or hitched a ride as a baby on a transatlantic ship.
"Whether it's the only one out there or if there are others out there, we don't know," said Simard.
Bluefire jellyfish are not endangered, but they are rarely found, partly because they are so difficult to spot in the water, she said.
As a result, few people have studied the bluefire and there’s very little documentation on them.
Staff at the centre aren’t sure what the bluefire eats. They put some hand-sized moon jellyfish in the tank, which is what the lion’s mane eats, but they don’t believe the bluefire has eaten any of them yet, said Simard.
It's unknown how long the jellyfish will live. Based on its size and colour, it has reached maturity, and their expected lifespan is only one season.
Two experts in the United States have asked for a piece of its DNA for analysis, said Simard.
The Huntsman has the largest collection of preserved North Atlantic species on site, so they hope to be able to trace where it came from and whether it’s part of a larger family of jellies, she said.
The bluefire's sting is painful and in very rare cases, deadly, according to the website jellyfishfacts.net.
But the bluefire in question is no threat because it has lost its tentacles, said Simard.