Spotlight: Ruby Seadragon Seen Alive for First Time

“There are rubies in the sea!” and “There be dragons!” exclaimed the news.

Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography announced the exciting news that they’ve spotted and filmed a live Ruby Seadragons in the wild, in waters off Australia.

“It was really quite an amazing moment,” said Scripps graduate student Josefin Stiller.

It’s the first time this surprise third species of seadragon has been seen alive in the wild.

Ruby seadragon, Phyllopteryx dewysea; photo Zoe Della Vedova

The Ruby Seadragon was discovered last year by Scripps researchers Greg W. Rouse, Josefin Stiller, and Nerida G. Wilson :

“Last year, Scripps Oceanography marine biologists Josefin Stiller and Greg Rouse, and Nerida Wilson of the Western Australian Museum described the previously unknown Ruby Seadragon from preserved specimens misidentified as Common Seadragons—one of which was collected nearly one hundred years ago.”

In the words of the New York Times:

Since the 19th century, marine biologists had thought that only two types of these enchanting fish existed — the leafy and weedy — until they discovered a third among museum specimens in 2015: the ruby sea dragon.

Now, for the first time, scientists have observed the ruby sea dragon swimming in the wild. It is colored deep red and looks like a stretched-out sea horse with a hump like a camel and a tail it can curl. Unlike its kin, the ruby sea dragon lacks the appendages that help camouflage leafy and weedy sea dragons among the ocean floor’s kelp and sea grass.

Watch the first-ever video of a Ruby Seadragon here:
(our website technology won’t allow us to post this important video here)

The backstory of this species’ discovery is fascinating, and includes researchers building a 3D model using preserved specimens, in order to envision what they were looking for.  their paper outlining the discovery.

The surprise discovery led to more surprises. The Ruby Seadragon has a prehensile tail, like seahorses. It also is lacking the appendages that other seadragons have.

The hunt for the Ruby Seadragon was complex. Because Ruby Seadragons were believed to live at depth, Scripps partnered with Total Marine Technology, which provided ROV support in the hunt for the new seadragon species. The Western Australian Museum gave researchers access to the seadragon specimens in its collection, which proved crucial in piecing together the puzzle, since the Ruby Seadragon had only been seen dead, and those specimens had been misclassified over time as known seadragon species.

“Until last year, no one had ever suspected a third species of seadragon existed,” said Rouse, lead author of the study. “This discovery was made thanks to the great benefit of museum collections.” And, we would add, the tenacity of the researchers.

Below, the other two types of sea dragons: Weedy, or Phyllopteryx taeniolatus (lower left); Leafy, or Phycodurus eques  (lower right).



Pic o’ the week – a whale watches

A humpback whale eyes photographer Rodger Klein in the South Pacific waters off Tonga.

© Rodger Klein

Where great whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye,
Round the world for ever and aye?
–Matthew Arnold

The southern hemisphere’s humpback whale population is slowly rebounding after being nearly wiped out by 20th century commercial whaling. The good news? The just-announced Camden Sound Marine Park in Western Australia should help safeguard nearly 3,000 square miles of ocean that includes the largest humpback whale calving grounds in that half of the globe. While there’s been a bit of controversy, the park seems a step in the right direction …

Mahalo to Rodger Klein for granting us use of this remarkable photo.
Check out his stuff here: RHK/UW Productions & Design.

Pic ‘o the week – harlequin close-up

Photo by Carl Charter/Marine Photobank

Close-up of a Harlequin Fish (Othos dentex) in South Australia’s Aldinga Reef Marine Reserve.

This stunning fish, found only in waters around Australia, isn’t protected although conservationists are worried about its future survival.

Scientists have realized that the gill plate markings are unique for each fish, so they can be tracked over time. Photographer Carl Charter notes that this fish has been photographed in the same place since 1997.

Carl’s pic was a winner in the Marine Photobank’s 2010 Photo Contest. The 2011 contest is open for entries – check it out if you have a great shot you’d like to share with the world.