A large jellyfish was found on the shore on Peaks Island, Maine, over the weekend that measured in at a whopping five feet -- something that researchers say would have been all but impossible in the state until just a few years ago.
The family that found it was astounded at how big the creature was.
"We put all three of our kids next to it and it was still bigger than all three," said mom Danielle Ivers.
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These creatures, known as the lion’s mane jellyfish, have only grown larger than a dinner plate in the area around Southern New England and Maine in the last few years, according to biologist Nick Record of Bigelow Labs.
Record first started studying the jellyfish in 2014, when scientists began seeing unusual jellyfish blooms in the Gulf of Maine.
“Over the last couple of years, the lion’s mane jellyfish have been getting startlingly large – the largest ones I’d seen were maybe one or two feet across,” said Record. “Two years ago, I started getting a lot of reports that they were maybe three feet across. Then last year there was one monster up in Lamoine, Maine, that was four or five feet across.”
Although it may be shocking for the average person to stumble upon such a large jellyfish, Record explained that the size of the animal is historically not unusual for the species.
“The largest one that I know of that was recorded was seen in the 1800s and it was about seven feet across and its tentacles were 120 feet long," Record said, making it longer blue whales.
The sizes of this species, also known as the giant jellyfish, have varied over the years. Record explained that researchers don't completely understand why.
He thinks there could be an environmental condition that makes lion’s mane jellyfish vary in size.
However, he explained that it is difficult to study jellyfish because they can appear and disappear for long periods of time, making it difficult to sustain funding for research.
Record noted that an increase in sightings of the lion mane jellyfish in warmer waters is quite unusual for the species.
“The warmer it gets, the further you’re getting out of the lion mane range. On top of that, they’re usually smaller in the warmer waters," he said. "As you get towards the fringes of their range where it’s almost too warm for them to survive, they tend to be smaller.”
Coming across a large jellyfish on the beach can be quite frightening, but it’s important to understand the integral role that jellyfish play in the ocean, Record said.
“Jellyfish, outside of being beautiful and amazing, are actually a really important part of ocean ecosystems,” said Record. “They’re prey for things like sea turtles and sea birds. They draw down carbon dioxide into the food web and they can also survive in ecosystems that are highly stressed.”
But he cautioned that jellyfish should be admired by humans at a safe distance, even on land -- they may still be able to sting when they're dead.
“It can be really painful. In some cases, if you’re stung really badly there can be medical issues,” Record said.
If you happen to come across one of these jellyfish, Record wants you to send a report directly to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.