Warming ocean brings bizarre creatures to Far South Coast

A BIZARRE aquatic parade of ocean interlopers continues to invade the waters of the Far South Coast.

A rare jellyfish last seen in Australian tropical waters in 1924 was found at Narooma on the weekend, while game fishermen last month encountered an abundance of short bill spearfish off Bermagui.

It was during the recent Canberra Game Fishing Club annual Yellowfin Tournament that anglers tagged and released five of the spearfish between May 16 and 18.

Green sea turtles, threadfin leatherjackets, pantropical spotted dolphins, amberjack are just some of the warm water species who have made appearances at Narooma.

Michael McMaster, curator at Merimbula’s Wharf Aquarium, the go-to man for all things aquatic is taking note.

This year alone, Mr McMaster has seen a number of extremely rare or unusual species in the Aquarium with the arrival of the goblin shark in January, a tropical jellyfish with a crab living inside it found off Merimbula Wharf six weeks ago, tropical sea urchins and now another jellyfish, for which the last recorded sighting in Australia was in 1924.

“Any more than one unusual sighting in a year is pretty exceptional but to have four is amazing,” he said.

His latest sighting was at the weekend when with the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery they took a group of walkers along the Narooma boardwalk.

A couple of snorkelers in the water produced sea life for the group to look at but when keen wildlife photographer and snorkeler, Georgia Poyner surfaced with a jellyfish, Mr McMaster knew they had found something rare.

“I looked at it and recognised it was something I had never seen before.”

Known as the crowned jellyfish (cephea cephea), its last recorded sighting in Australian waters was in northern Queensland in 1924.

Generally it is found in tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

After confirming the species with the Australian Museum, he has been asked to send the jellyfish to the museum to be recorded.

At the same time the Narooma group also discovered a couple of tropical sea urchins which have also been brought back to the Aquarium.

Known as sea lamingtons, they live in the waters of the tropics down as far as Sydney.

But Mr McMaster had noticed that there were a few last year at Narooma too.

What he is uncertain about is whether they are starting to colonise at Narooma or whether each year some drift south on ocean currents, only to die as the waters get colder in winter.

And ocean warming could be having an effect.

“It’s not the summer temperatures that go up but the winter ones that do not go down as much and that allows some species to move and breed further south,” he said.

The crowned jellyfish, which doesn’t live for very long, spent a short time at the Aquarium before being sent to the Australian Museum to be part of the record books.

The Redmap (Range Extension Database & Mapping project) invites the Australian community to spot, log and map marine species that are uncommon in Australia, or along particular parts of our coast.

You can log on and report your unusual sightings here

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