Photograph by Tim Samuel
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This startling image was made in December in Byron Bay, Australia.

Photograph by Tim Samuel

Living Fish Found Inside Jellyfish in Bizarre Underwater Scene

An Australian photographer captured a rarely seen moment.

Are you trudging through life slowly? Well, this fish—found inside a jellyfish—can sympathize with you.

Back in December, ocean photographers Tim Samuel and Franny Plumridge were freediving in Byron Bay, off the east coast of Australia, when Samuel spotted a curious scene. He made a picture of a yellow fish stuck inside a translucent jellyfish and posted it to his Instagram account.

It wasn’t until DiscoverOcean republished the picture on Tuesday that the image went viral. Samuel says he later posted the picture to Reddit, where it made the trending list—twice.

“Woke up this morning to my phone going crazy due to one [of] my photos being reposted,” Samuel wrote on Instagram. “It is crazy how much attention this little guy is getting.”

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Another view of the odd couple.

In his years of photographing marine life, Samuel hadn’t seen a similar scene before. The fish’s tail was sticking outside the back of the jelly, so it was able to propel the creature forward. Over the 20 minutes that Samuel and Plumridge watched in curiosity and amazement, the fish/jellyfish wobbled and swam in circles. The fish knocked the jelly off balance and pushed it from side to side in the water. At some points, the duo just stopped moving.

“I’d never seen anything like it before,” Samuel says.

After taking in the scene, Samuel and Plumridge left to photograph turtles.

"I definitely thought about setting it free,” Samuel told CNN, “but in the end decided to just let nature run its course."

Watch: Another mysterious jellyfish

So What is Going On?

While that fish is probably still wondering how it got inside that jellyfish, researchers are questioning the species of both these animals.

Rob Condon, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, which houses the Jellyfish Database Initiative, says the jelly might be a hydromedusa. He says many types of animals associate with jellies, but he’s uncertain about the exact species of the fish.

“The importance of these types of associations are poorly understood but jellies are likely providing key ecosystem services that benefit the fish species in this regard,” Condon writes in an email.

Lisa-Ann Gershwin, a jellyfish taxonomist who has discovered about 200 species of jellyfish, is also questioning the jelly’s species.

Gershwin says the jellyfish looks like a chimera of two different classes, Cubozoa and Scyphozoa. But the number and look of the animal’s tentacles, as well as its shape, don’t add up to either class.

“Something really strange is going on there,” Gershwin says.

The unidentified fish has probably been inside the jellyfish for a while, Gershwin says, which would have deteriorated the jellyfish. But if the jelly had deteriorated, it wouldn’t have any tentacles left.

Gershwin adds that it’s “totally normal” for fish to use jellies for feeding, protection, and locomotion. She’s just perplexed about both the animals and the photo.

This story was updated on July 8 at 5:30 pm ET with more info about the animals.