Ruby seadragon caught swimming, feeding on film for the first time

The ruby seadragon has always been an elusive little beast.

In fact, until 2015 nobody even knew underwater fellow existed. But now scientists have captured the prehistoric and delicate-looking creature on video. And, it’s pretty mesmerizing.

Indeed, for centuries, researchers thought there were only two types of seadragons — the leafy one and the common variety. Both were known to swim the depths of Australia.

But then, just two years ago, researchers Greg Rouse, Josefin Stiller and Nerida G. Wilson, described the ruby seadragon from four misidentified specimens in museum collections. And then, one just happened to be live-collected by trawling the Recherche Archipelago, which is a cluster of more than 100 islands in Western Australia.

Ruby seadragon specimen. Scripps Oceanography/YouTube

So the scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the Western Australian Museum went back there in April, 2016, dropped a tiny remotely operated vehicle equipped with a low-light camera to a depth of 54 metres — too deep for scuba divers — and captured the world’s first images of live ruby sea dragons.

They saw, in fact, two ruby sea dragons and observed 10 feeding strikes over 30 minutes. They also saw it lacked appendages, but had a curled tail.

“Until last year, no one had ever suspected a third species of seadragon existed,” lead author Rouse, said in a statement. “This discovery was made thanks to the great benefit of museum collections.”

Their findings were recently published in Marine Biodiversity Records.

Ruby seadragon in the wild. Scripps Oceanography/YouTube

“There are so many discoveries still awaiting us in southern Australia,” study co-author Wilson said in a statement. “Western Australia has such a diverse range of habitats, and each one is deserving of attention.”

The researchers also used the finding as a call to safeguard its future.

“As with the leafy and common seadragons we encourage the protection of the ruby seadragon as soon as practicable. We are proceeding with actions to nominate the ruby seadragon for listing at state and federal levels, to afford it the protection already available to the other two sea dragon species,” the authors wrote.

You can watch a portion of the footage here. But we warn you, it may make you a little bit seasick.


h/t The New York Times Photos Scripps Oceanography/YouTube

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