A type of jellyfish that can grow to about the size of a beach ball and inflict harm to vessels has recently been spotted in North and South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said.
On Wednesday, the department posted on their Facebook page two photos of the jellyfish, dubbed an Australian spotted jellyfish or white-spotted jellyfish, from a recent sighting just south of Myrtle Beach.
"These jellies can form large 'blooms' that gobble up fish and shellfish eggs and damage boats and fishing gear," the department warned.
Peter Kingsley-Smith, a senior marine scientist at the Marine Resources Science Institute of the Department, explained to CBS News a bloom occurs when there is a "high-density concentration" of jellyfish in a region. The precise size of the jellyfish could not be calculated from the picture, Kingsley-Smith said.
According to the National Invasive Species Knowledge Centre, the animals are endangered species and are endemic to Australia and the Philippines. The center said they were first spotted in 1981 in the U.S., in California. But Kingsley-Smith said they had been reported since the 30s or 40s out of their native range.
The center said they were "possibly" joining the hulls of ships from the Pacific Ocean by way of the Panama Canal.
When did this phenomenon start?
Kingsley-Smith said the jellyfish first reached the U.S. southeast coast in 2000 when a large bloom happened off the Gulf of Mexico. At the moment, approximately 5 million of these animals were spotted off Louisiana and Alabama's shores.
He said scientists now conclude that there is an existing population of the organisms in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly as a consequence of the occurrence in 2000. The species is frequently seen there.
In 2007, with individual observations of single jellyfish, Australian spotted jellyfish were first recorded off the South Carolina coast, Kingsley-Smith said. A break in sightings occurred until 2017 when fisherman reported a major bloom in the Large River. The fisherman recorded that the bloom of jellyfish spread a quarter-mile wide and about 5 miles up the shore.
Kingsley-Smith said that it is "difficult" to know precisely where the jellies from these latest Carolina sightings originated from since tides and waves will carry them over "substantial distances."
He said the recent sightings are not highly alarming because they were individual jellies, not "huge swarms."
"In terms of the Australian spotted jellyfish, the concern about impact is about these large bloom events," he explained, adding, "In the case of an individual jellyfish, those concerns are lessened."
However, he emphasized that it is necessary to report it to people who think that they spot the species, as the mixture of reports will provide a clearer understanding of the species' status in the region.
The department encouraged individuals to "keep an eye out for this animal," which has a distinctive "spotted look," and report observations online. Any reported sightings should help support federal researchers understand these species.
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