Ruby seadragons are majestic and fascinating, but, up until 2015, were unknown to the scientific community. Now a new study published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records [PDF] reveals that a member of this elusive species has been recorded alive in its natural habitat for the first time.
The video was recorded in April 2016 by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Western Australian Museum. Unlike the two other known seadragon species, the leafy seadragon and the common seadragon, 10-inch long rubies (Phyllopteryx dewysea) most likely hang out at depths that exceed what humans can handle. So instead of sending down scuba divers, the team used a remotely operated vehicle to capture the footage 164 feet deep in the waters off western Australia’s Recherche Archipelago.
Scripps researchers declared the ruby seadragon a new species in 2015 after analyzing a dead specimen. It lacks the leafy camouflage its closest relatives are known for, instead using its red coloring to blend in at depths where the hue is absorbed. The new footage also shows that ruby seadragons sport a curly tail like their seahorse cousins, complicating scientists’ ideas about how the trait evolved.
Before this footage was recorded, only four preserved specimens of the species had been studied. Now that more is known about the creature, scientists are asking Australian lawmakers to grant it the same protection that’s given to other seadragons. Since 1999, for instance, the leafy seadragon has been shielded from international trade and commercial use under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.