You might think the name “giant phantom jellyfish” is a little dramatic, but you’ve never come face to face with a Stygiomedusa gigantea. Just recently, a group of international scientists with the Viking Expedition Team became the first to nab photographic evidence of the elusive creature — and prove that it definitely lives up to its name.
The team spotted the 33-foot-long creature while exploring the icy waters of Antarctica. They were able to whip out a camera just in time to capture the jelly making its way through the water, tentacles waving like long ribbons.
Although the species was first discovered in 1910, there have only been 126 recorded encounters with S. gigantea to date. The giant phantom jellyfish is thought to feed on plankton and small fish, and can be found lurking anywhere from the water’s surface to a depth of 21,900 feet. The huge bell at the top of its body is an estimated three feet in diameter. The ribbon-like tentacles are used for feeding.
The team published a paper last month in the journal Polar Research describing their once-in-a-lifetime meeting. In it, they said their photos are proof that personal submarines “can be vessels of opportunity for biological research in the polar regions.”
The giant phantom jellyfish sighting has also opened up new avenues for further research. Dr. Damon Stanwell-Smith, head of science and sustainability at Viking, told IFLScience that he believes this is just the beginning of many scientific papers resulting from research conducted onboard Viking expedition vessels.
Does that mean more giant jellyfish in the future? We can only hope so. For now, you can read the team’s further observations in Polar Research or take in the massive sea-dwelling creature in photos. It’s likely as close as you’ll ever get — or want to.