Salpa Maggiore: Mysterious Translucent Fish Identified

Jennifer Deutschmann - Author
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Nov. 14 2017, Updated 3:33 a.m. ET

A Salpa Maggiore was spotted and caught off the coast of New Zealand. Stewart Fraser and his two sons were on a fishing trip when they found the bizarre creature floating in the water. Although it was shaped somewhat like a shrimp, it was almost completely transparent.

Fraser said the fish “felt scaly and was quite firm… and you couldn’t see anything aside from this orange little blob inside.” He and his friends had never seen anything like it. After snapping a photo, the fisherman threw the mysterious fish back into the water.

After viewing the photo, National Marine Aquarium director Paul Cox identified the mysterious creature as a Salpa maggiore, also known as the Salpa maxima. While salps may look similar to jellyfish, they are more closely related to marine vertebrates, including fish.

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Although they are mainly transparent, the bizarre creatures have gills and a heart. Like other tunicates, their bodies are encased in a sac-like structure, which has an opening at each end. As water pumps in and out of the openings, or siphons, Salps are propelled through the water. Filters inside their body sift through the water and collect their food, which consists mainly of algae and phytoplankton.

As reported by Plankton Chronicles, Salpa maggiore can grow to around 10 inches long and often travel in large groups, or chains. As they are asexual, the creatures are capable of producing their own offspring to form the massive chains. While part of a chain, salps use electrical currents to communicate and synchronize their movements.

Outside Online explains that salps are unique, as they “exist both as individuals and part of an aggregate organism.” While part of a chain, they maintain their individual identity. However, they also function as one, much larger, organism.

Cox said the salp’s transparent appearance is a form of camouflage. The creatures often float along the surface to feed and they have no way to defend themselves against predators. Cox said “little is known about” the Salpa maggiore. However, they are most often found in the cooler waters of the Southern Ocean.

Fraser spotted the mysterious fish around 40 miles off the Karikari Peninsula. He said he was hesitant to take it out of the water but was happy to have the photo for identification.

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Salpa Maggiore are rare but fascinating creatures. Fraser was fortunate to see one up close and have the opportunity to record his find.

[Image via Wikimedia]

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