Jellyfish, or sea jellies, can be found in waters all around the world, but they are primarily translucent and difficult to see. For a good look at them, a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is rewarding.
Highly regarded around the world, the Monterey Bay Aquarium houses 35,000 animals of over 550 species. The Aquarium is also prominent in research and commitment toward ocean protection and public awareness.
They have many exhibits with sea creatures, and about a dozen tanks filled with different kinds of sea jellies. (The term “jellyfish” has officially been replaced by “sea jellies” because jellies do not have spines and are therefore not fish. I use the terms interchangeably here.)
Sea jellies are gelatinous invertebrates and 95% water, and appear almost invisible in the underwater world. To aid with viewing, the aquarium tank backgrounds are blue and illuminated by side lights.
You can see in this photo what a sea jelly (center) in the San Francisco Bay really looks like — ghostly and almost imperceptible.
Sea jellies require currents for locomotion. In public aquariums, there is a complex system for water flow, with precise inflow and outflow.
According to World Atlas, there are more than 2,000 species of jellyfish in the world, and it is thought that there are over 300,000 species yet to be discovered.
The sea nettles and purple-striped jellies photographed here are found along California’s Pacific coast. They are highly efficient in their movement, using muscles in their umbrella-shaped bell to propel; this is also where the mouth and digestive system exist.
Tentacles are the long stringy body parts, and have stinging cells, or nematocysts, that sting their prey. The “arms” are frilly extensions, and move the prey to the mouth.
It is a marvelous experience to observe this exhibit…mesmerizing. A dark room with colorful, glowing cases filled with exotic sea jellies. Soft music accompanies as we watch the jellies rhythmically pulse and propel throughout the illuminated tanks.
But . . . if you have ever been stung by a jellyfish, and I have, you don’t forget the sting, no matter how attractive and enticing the jellies appear.
The first time, Athena and I were snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef when we came upon eight or ten sea turtles in one small area. Usually you see one or two turtles, but here we were thrilled to find so many.
When we swam respectfully near, we found ourselves in massive clouds of sea jellies. Each jellyfish was the size of a large coin, and there were thousands. The turtles, we realized too late, were there to eat the jellyfish.
Stung instantly and by the dozens, we shot out of that cloud like rockets. Came to the surface, stunned. Even so, we both laughed then and there, because the experience was so atrociously the opposite of what we had expected.
Within 24 hours the bites had disappeared; and thereafter underwater garments were purchased.
Most jellyfish stings are not deadly, but a few species can produce stings fatal to humans.
Usually I prefer seeing creatures in the wild, over observing them in an exhibit. But in the case of sea jellies, I think these other-worldly and sting-free exhibits are just the ticket.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.