Sea Jellies

Purple-striped Jelly

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.


Monterey Bay Aquarium Wikipedia


Spotted Comb Jelly


Black Sea Nettles


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 (The term “jellyfish” has officially been replaced by “sea jellies” because jellies do not have spines and are therefore not fish.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 Jelly in San Francisco Bay, Tiburon Harbor


Sea jellies require currents for locomotion. In public aquariums,  there is a complex system for water flow, with precise inflow and outflow.


Sea Gooseberry Jelly


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.

Purple-striped Jelly pair

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.


Jellyfish anatomy. Courtesy Wikipedia.


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.


Jelly Live Web Cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium


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.

Black Sea Nettles



95 thoughts on “Sea Jellies

  1. What a spectacular exhibit Jet❣️ It’s fascinating to see them up close and illuminated!. Your story at the reef is a good reminder to consider when we see animals gather ….. it usually isn’t for us to take photographs. 🤣

  2. Although it is likely 30 years ago, I still have such vivid memories of our visit to the Monterey Aquarium. Our son would have been 5 or so and his big blue eyes were like saucers. In reading about your jelly fish experience in Australia I agree that is might be the best way to see these intriguing creatures. Although the vision of you and Athena blasting like rockets out of the Great Barrier Reef is quite the vision. Glad to hear the stings settled relatively quickly.

    • Your words were a treat, Sue, and I think that means you’re home. We have experienced many power outages this month, and I haven’t been able to visit my friends in the blogosphere. Today it’s on. And how wonderful that you and your family have been to the MBA, it’s such a wonderful place. Even after 30 years, it’s not forgotten. Glad I could share the jellyfish experience with you. 🙂 Many thanks.

  3. They’re natural works of art aren’t they. And I like the more subtle shot of the jelly in the bay. I may be jealous of your turtle experience but definitely not of the stings. A beautifully colourful post Jet, thank you 😊

    • Yes, I agree, Alastair, jellyfish are natural works of art. Incredible creatures. We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium last week, so there’ll be more posts from there. I’m really happy you enjoyed it.

  4. What a cool posting, Jet. I never realized that “jellyfish” was out of favor as a term, though it is, of course, true that they are not fish. I must confess that I associate “jelly” with the grape or strawberry substance that I might spread on my toast, so I figured that “sea jellies” might expand my dietary repertoire. 🙂 I have visited the Monterey Aquarium a few times and recall being blown away by the exhibits. I was particularly struck by the fact that it focused primarily on local species (and Monterey Bay apparently has an amazing ecosystem).

    • Oh how wonderful that you’ve been to the MBA several times, Mike. I agree it is striking that they focus on local species. When you stand at the seashore looking out, it’s easier to imagine what lies underneath with these amazing exhibits to illustrate. I really appreciation your confession about the jellies, Mike, it gave me a warm smile to start my Friday. Thanks so much for your visit.

    • And also wonderful for me to share the jellyfish experiences with you, Eddie. Thanks so much for your lovely visit and comment. I enjoyed your Nick Hornby quote this morning.

  5. I enjoyed reading about and seeing these colourful wobbly wonders – they are so striking! They are also another reason I prefer to be on, not in, the water, and the story you shared hasn’t changed my mind. Glad you could laugh even as you were stung! Sea turtles must have strong stomachs…
    Scout was sat on the dock the other day staring at a procession – flock? flotilla? school? – of jellyfish floating past on the outward current. She didn’t stick her nose in.
    Thanks, Jet, and I hope you have a great weekend, with no power issues or fire threats.

    • I loved hearing about the scene with Scout and the jellyfish swarm, pc. And what a smart dog for not sticking her nose in, that’s very interesting. Even Scout found them interesting to watch, but from a distance. I’m glad you enjoyed the jellyfish post today. As for the fires and power issues, it’s pretty bad; but we’re not in flames so that’s good. Didn’t have electricity for three days, then today it is on, but they’ll probably be shutting it down on Sat. and Sun. Bad air too. Thanks for your warm thoughts and the jellyfish story, my friend.

  6. Loving your posting, Jet. I bought a book on jellyfish. It is from the expert Lia-Ann Gershwin. I have never seen photographs like this before and never read such interesting informations about these outstanding animals. I was surprised about one sea jelly which never dies. It’s Turritopsis dohrnii. It’s fantastic!!

    • In my research for this post, I learned about the immortal jellyfish too. Isn’t that fascinating? Amazing creatures. I’m really glad you’re enjoying your studies of them, Simone. Many thanks.

  7. They are beautiful in the water, so graceful, but they are a nuisance in any fishery. I can’t imagine how much it hurt to be stung by them. Many years ago a friend told of being stung by Portuguese Man-o-wars in Hawaiian waters (after a storm had washed some closer to the beach). She never forgot it. Like a thousand bee stings she said. What a shock that must have been for you, getting stung. I was glad (and surprised) to hear that turtles eat the jellyfish. That’s good! Wonderful post.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the jellyfish post today, Anneli. I’ve read they clog up the fisheries; and also that jellyfish clogged up and shut down a nuclear plant in Sweden in 2013. Our jellyfish stings weren’t as bad as bee stings. It was like lots of pricking needles, though. I would guess you and the Captain have seen a fair share of them in your many sea travels. Thanks so much for your visit today.

  8. Wonderful creatures, especially as seen under the blue fluorescent light. I remember I’ve seen some of these at the Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, but I would love to visit MBA one day!
    I looked up to check if the Black Sea Nettles really come from the Black Sea LOL That’s a no no answer🙂
    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of seeing sea jellies at the Toronto Aquarium, Christie. Enjoyed your story of wondering about black sea nettles in the Black Sea and looking it up — it’s the only way we learn things, right? Many thanks.

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed the sea jellies today, MB. We’ve been stung since, but it’s a lot easier when your body is covered; and we know now what to look for. They’re kind of glinting in the light under the water. Thanks very much.

  9. The colors and movements of these sea jellies IS mesmerizing, Jet! 😊 Wow! I enjoyed watching the live exhibit. Sounds like a wonderful aquarium and quite the experience to get stung by them! Glad you recovered fairly quickly. 💙

    • How wonderful that you had a chance to check out the live cam of the sea jellies, Jill. It’s a really good rendition of what it’s like in the MBA exhibits. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, much appreciated.

    • The sea jellies do look like they come from another world. And the underwater world really is a different world. Yes, I think we were lucky in escaping a worse fate from them. Thanks, Jan, always a pleasure.

    • I can completely imagine you using jellyfish in your fiction, Craig. In your fiction where a man can turn into fog, a talking hat has a rich ancestry and is in complete control and saving the world, and a suave and sassy robot is an excellent dresser…yes, a jellyfish with some special powers sounds delightful. Glad to “see” you today, thank you.

  10. Hi Jet, Fantastic photos and info about Sea Jellies (I always said Jellyfish, too) They are such beautiful creatures and I think a highlight at any aquarium. Thankfully you and Athena weren’t injured too badly from the cloud of them at the Great Barrier Reef! I was stung by just one and will never forget it. Thanks again for another great focus on nature.
    I hope you are safe and not engulfed by smoke. A light cloud of smoke just arrived in SF. Distressing.

    • Yes, the jellyfish are big hits with the crowds, and no matter how big the crowd, the jellyfish exhibit seems to quiet people down…so magical. Re fire, we are surrounded by smoke and have to keep the doors and windows shut in spite of the heat. But the good news is we are not on fire, and we have power. We’ve been without electricity, water, septic, cellular and internet services for three days this week. It finally came back yesterday. But, as you probably know, it’s supposed to go off again on Sat. and Sun. That’s been seriously debilitating, and yes, as you say, distressing. Thanks, Jane. Sending my hopes for clean air and safe days filled with electric conveniences.

  11. These images are just captivating! And I loved the Jelly-cam – what a terrific idea to include it in your post. Thanks for sharing the valuable scientific info, too! We went to the new Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem last summer and saw similar darkened, glowing tanks of these magical creatures. But we were with 3 young grandchildren age 4 and under, so needless to say, I didn’t have time to take photographs or read all the exhibit captions ☺️. P.S. Glad to know your stings went away quickly and that you bought protective suits!!

    • I liked hearing about the jellyfish exhibits at the Jerusalem Aquarium, BJ. Jellyfish are marvels of nature, and those aquariums are marvels of technology. How fun that you went there with your grandchildren. Glad you enjoyed the life cam. Thanks so much.

  12. Thanks Jet, it is great to see pictures and learn facts about this mighty aquarium. Jellyfish are not fun to meet, at least not the red ones.
    I grew up along a coast that get a lot of jelly fish during warm summers.
    We learnt how to spot where they were most prolific and normally swim accordingly.
    One big swimming competition had me swim straight through a bunch of red ones though and that I do not forget. I finished the race but felt sick after.


    • Really enjoyed hearing about your coastal challenges with the red jellyfish, Miriam. You are a dedicated swimmer to continue the competition and swim through the swarm. Like I originally wrote, we do not ever forget our jellyfish stings, do we. Many thanks.

  13. Jet, thank you for sharing these marvels of the sea! they look magical and colorful too! as always, lovely post and awesome photographs of Athena! again, thank you!

  14. So interesting! And the live cam from the Monterey Aquarium is, indeed, mesmerizing to watch. (Check out the ad that appears at the bottom of your post… looks like sea jelly-wannabes cavorting on the dance floor.)

    • It’s such an impressive organization, the MBA. It’s a non-profit. I’m delighted you were able to check out the live cam, Nan. The ad didn’t show up on my version, but I loved your description of the sea jelly-wannabes. Thanks so very much.

  15. Fabulous captures of these jelly fish. I love to watch them swimming whenever I get a chance, but haven’t been able to take good photos like Athena did. Thank you for the fascinating information.

    • I was so pleased to see how well Athena’s photographs came out. They don’t allow flash in the Aquarium, but the sea jellies were great with their lighting. They are really fun to watch, I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of this experience, Amy. Thanks so much for your visits today.

  16. There is poetry in their rhythmic pulsing and I agree, best viewed in an aquarium. I’ve been to the Boston Aquarium and found them quite mesmerizing. But in the wild…they terrify me! Glad your encounter was relatively benign. Beautiful shots, Athena!

    • I would imagine the Boston Aquarium has spectacular exhibits of the sea jellies, and wonderful that you’ve had the joy of seeing them, and, for that matter, not being stung by them. 😉 Thanks so much, as always, Eliza.

  17. These incredible creatures are nothing like any other animals. They are strange, looking more like giant amoebas or shaped like microbes. I’ve been stung many times, I used to be very fond of beaches. An old fisherman told me to rub DRY sand over the area affected by the sting and do not use WET sand. It worked for me every time! Great post, my friend. Take care! 🙂

    • Truly a delight to hear about your beach experiences with the jellyfish, HJ. I love that an old fisherman gave you the secret, and here you have passed it on to us. And even though you’ve been stung many times, you still think of them as incredible. Wonderful to hear from you. I’ve been having a lot of problems with our electricity being turned out every few days lately, for several days at a time, in quite an emergency mode for the whole area. I apologize I haven’t been able to visit at your site lately, or anyone else’s, but once things get back to normal again and we have electricity and services again, I’ll be back online. We got it back for today, but tomorrow and Sunday we’ll be without power again. In the meantime, HJ, please know I am thinking of you with great thanks.

    • I love the Monterey Bay Aquarium too, we’re so lucky to have this special place, aren’t we. I’m glad you’ve been there and appreciate it, T. Thanks for your visit today.

  18. Jellyfish are so beautiful. I saw a lovely exhibit of them once at the Baltimore, MD aquarium. And I did get stung at Panama City Beach, FL once as a child. I don’t know how you and Athena could laugh after being stung by so many! Buying underwater coverings was a good idea.

    • Hi LuAnne, thank you for sharing your sea jelly experience. I think we probably didn’t get stung as hard as you did, but how nice we lived to share our tales. I apologize for the delay in responding, and appreciate your visit.

  19. Monterey Bay Aquarium is amazing. It’s been many years since I’ve seen it, and I’d still call it the best I’ve seen. (But the sea jellies may be the coolest part.) Regarding your Australia experience, it’s good it wasn’t box jellies you encountered, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be with us today. It doesn’t sound fun in any case. I’ve encountered a few jellies while diving, but have only gotten minor stings. I hope it stays that way.

  20. Laughing after multiple sea jelly bites?! I give you two so much credit for being hearty souls. Much hardier than me. This post was absolutely amazing to me. I grew up in the East Coast where we swam in the Atlantic Ocean every summer, and every summer when I was a kid, it seemed I got stung by a jellyfish. By the time I was 11, I stopped swimming in the ocean. I found the jellyfish (which is what we called them at the time) menacing and painful. The jellyfish I encountered were large and grayish. And they were MEAN. Your photos show the beauty in the sea jellies. But, sadly, I still avoid swimming in the Atlantic Ocean if I see any jellies around. They only come when the tide is a certain way. Then we see dead ones along the sand near the surf. They look like ghostly aliens. then.

    • I so enjoyed hearing about your jellyfish experiences growing up, Pam, and understand why you wouldn’t want to subject yourself to more mean stings. Thanks so much for sharing your lovely words, I apologize for the delay in responding. Sending smiles your way.

  21. This might sound strange, but the only time I have ever seen jelly fish is in the ocean (fast exit) or on the beach, walk the other way… But have not been to many aquariums and the one that I have been to I do not recall seeing these beauties there. I am sure if I did see them, I would remember. So thanks for sharing these amazing images.


    • It was a delight to share the beautiful jellyfish with you, Peta. Sorry for the long delay in responding, had some difficulties with fire and power outages in our area, but all is well now. I think you are probably in California about now visiting your son. Thinking of you with smiles, and hope you’re enjoying your trip.

  22. Lovely post, but I can’t help but worry about you given the news of California once again ablaze. How are you two holding out? Hope you’re not threatened with this latest outbreak!!!

    • I have a habit of going back to read comments after I post mine and glad to see that back on the 25th your problem was the power outages and not threatening flames. I’m sure they must be highly annoying, but perhaps better than the fires. Hoping this all dies down soonest. And that you are both safe and snug.

      It also occurred to me to mutter about the scientifically correct tendency to change names like starfish or seagulls or jellyfish over a simple technicality. Mutter, mutter! 😉

      • Dear Gunta, Thanks so much for your concern and for connecting in your two comments. Our county was pure chaos for awhile and Athena and I had to move around to friends’ houses when the temperatures got too cold to stay at home without electricity. The week of Halloween there were many evacuations, including our medical center and the courts, and we were all without power, and without water for us rural folks. Big stores, gas stations, schools closed; no hotel vacancies. The fires were frightening and threatening, for the winds were raging. We escaped fire this time, and things are settling now. Incredible heroics from the emergency responders. It has been a difficult time but we are fine. Thanks so very much.

  23. I love this post about sea jellies Jet, as I love sea jellies! They are quite something else, and the ones with the blue background are quite mesmerizing and relaxing to watch. Also great photo of the Spotted Comb Jelly, it looks like there is a ballet dancer inside.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the sea jellies, Bertie. Their unique beauty is delightful to ponder — standing on the other side of the aquarium glass really does capture your imagination. I’m glad you could do the same through the photos. Thank you so much for your visit.

  24. The change from ‘jellyfish’ to ‘sea jellies’ is interesting. It reminds me of the change from ‘bird watching’ to ‘birding,’ although birding was easy to adopt, while ‘jellyfish’ is so firmly implanted in my mind I may never change.

    Whatever they’re called, your photos and text are fascinating. The jellies are an integral part of my working life, since there are several species that float in and out with the seasons, appearing even in the marinas here. They haven’t been so numerous in Galveston Bay the past few years, thanks to floods that reduced the salinity levels. But they’re beginning to show up along the beaches and in the near-offshore waters again, and I’m so glad. Ours aren’t as beautiful as these, but now I’m wondering what they’d look like with those wonderful lights and special tanks!

    • Really enjoyed hearing from you, Linda, and your experiences with the jellyfish. And isn’t it fun to think about, the way a jellyfish would look with the help of special lights and tanks. Thank you so much.

  25. Sea jellies are absolutely fascinating! I liken them to performing ‘water ballet’ with their slow, flowing movements. I’ve always enjoyed watching our Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles, luckily maybe seeing one every once in a while. But I had a recent encounter with hundreds of them back in September that blew me away. If you have a moment, Jet, check out my two posts and I don’t normally do a shout-out for myself, but I think you will find what I shot fascinating. 🙂

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the sea jellies, Donna, and I look forward to checking out your Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles posts. Thanks so much for letting me know. Many thanks, my friend.

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