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Jellyfish Of The Day

I started texting these to my dad every(ish) day, so I thought I'd post them here, for fun.
Feb 28 '14
Jellyfish of the Day #20: Helmet Jellyfish 
Since deep sea jellyfish are so rare, they usually don’t have common names. So you can bet if they DO have a common name, they are FAR too common. The Helmet Jellyfish is weird in a number of ways, not the least of which is its clear, pointy, name-sake bell. It also has 12 distinct, spidery tentacles which protrude in front of the Helmet Jellyfish, instead of trailing behind, like in most jellyfish species. It is also found in all of the Earth’s oceans, as far as 7000 meters deep. It is also extremely bioluminescent. It is also red. And it is also WAY too comfortable coming to the surface to take over fisheries. While this animal used to occasionally appear in deep underwater trawling nets, its population has exploded in such a way that Norway’s biggest threat to its fishing industry is the Helmet Jellyfish. The blooms are a complete mystery, with Norwegian scientists scrambling to figure out why this deep sea species would all of the sudden show up so close to shore, and why it is so resilient to eradication efforts. One piece of the puzzle is the breeding cycle of Helmet Jellyfish, which does not include the usual sessile stages, meaning the Helmet Jellyfish goes directly from egg to swimming, fish-egg-eating medusa. But other than that, no one has a clue why the deep sea Helmet Jellyfish would abandon its usual and sparse habitats, thousands of meters under sheets of polar ice, to wreak havoc on Noway’s fjord-fed fisheries. One ray of hope is this: Helmet Jellyfish are red because of a pigment called protoporphyrin, which deteriorates with sunlight. The only reason Helmet Jellyfish can live for 30 years is by avoiding light, staying deep underwater and surfacing only on the darkest nights, going so far as to hide under sheets of ice to avoid the glow of the moon. They’re like the opposite of Superman when it comes to our yellow sun, a weakness that hopefully sheds some light on keeping their numbers at bay.


Feb 27 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #19: Stygiomedusa gigantea

Why don’t deep sea jellyfish have common names? well, they aren’t very common. This monster was officially described by Antarctic explorers in 1910, and has only been seen about a dozen times since then. You may recognize this jellyfish from recent underwater videos (much like the recent videos that have surfaced of Deepstaria) because video footage of this elusive jellyfish caused a lot of scientific sensation. While the Deepstaria videos went viral because no one knew what it was, the Stygiomedusa video caused an uproar because of WHERE it was. The handful of times this giant has been found have mostly occurred in the deep, frigid waters of the Antarctic Circle, but the videos - filmed in 2009 - were from oil rigs in the GULF OF MEXICO. Which means the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of its purple curtains are MUCH more widespread than we originally thought. With a bell over a meter wide and feeding arms trailing up to 20 feet, this animal is just one more reason to avoid swimming in the Gulf of Mexico - as if you needed any.

Feb 26 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #18: Deepstaria Jellyfish

In 2012, an underwater ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) was checking out a deep sea drilling station when an ominous shape loomed into view. The shape shifted and swirled around the submersible, its creepy darkness and billowing sheet-like skin moving in and out of focus, making it nearly impossible to identify. See here: The mysterious footage went viral on YouTube - some thought it was a sinking whale placenta or a high tech trash bag, but it kept everyone guessing. Scientists at MBARI eventually identified the ghost-like “Cascade Creature” as Deepstaria reticulum, a very rare, very massive deep sea jellyfish that appeared more menacing because the ROV’s propulsion jets stirred the water around this fragile animal. Deepstaria jellyfish have been described since the 60’s, and are known for hunting in a very peculiar way: Using its enormous and thin bell, the Deepstaria jellyfish hangs still in the water, like a wide open umbrella. Fish swimming upwards become trapped in this giant canopy, and the Deepstaria jellyfish then cinches shut at the bottom, much like, well, a high tech trash bag. The prey trapped inside is stung every time it hits a wall until it is exhausted, and then tiny cilia move the animal towards the mouth where it is finally digested. Deepstaria reticulum and Deepstaria enigmatica are different species names of virtually the same jellyfish, but are often used interchangeably in news reports online, so I’m lumping them together here as Deepstaria Jellyfish, since they haven’t yet been awarded a common name. Given their spooky appearance, and in honor the passing of Harold Ramis, I vote their common name should be “Gozers.”

Feb 24 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #17: Atolla Jellyfish 

The numerous species of jellyfish that make up the Atolla family share some pretty amazing characteristics: they are red, they live very deep, they are universally weird looking, and they light up like fireworks when startled. Within the jellyfish family tree there are many branches, and some seem almost unrelated, because there are so many marine animals that are both gelatinous and venomous - and ALL of them are Cnidarians. But the “true jellyfish” branch is called Scyphozoa. The Scyphozoa class is further divided into six orders, one of which is Coronatae. Coronates, as the name implies, include all the jellyfish with a large ridge in their bell, causing these very round jellyfish to resemble crowns or “coronas,” and it is in this order we find the Atolla family of deep sea jellyfish. We will specifically be looking at Atolla wyvillei, as it is sort of the “flagship model” of all Atolla Jellyfish. This small (15cm), red, deep sea jellyfish lives anywhere from 500 to FIVE THOUSAND METERS underwater! Its claim to fame: vivid bioluminescence. In a black world illuminated by myriads of flashes and glows, your worst enemy is standing out in the crowd, so when the Atolla Jellyfish feels startled or threatened, it lights up like a Christmas tree, drawing as much attention as possible to whatever is attacking it - and hopefully, something much hungrier and larger. This clever strategy has earned the Atolla Jellyfish a more fitting nickname: “the alarm jellyfish.” Here’s a video so you can see how it works!

Feb 18 '14
Jellyfish of the day #16: Big Red Jellyfish

As we explore more and more of the oceans’ deep secrets, I have a feeling we’ll be running into more and more jellyfish like this one. Discovered in 2008, my future employer (Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute) found a whole new category of deep sea jellyfish they aptly called “Big Red” (it is also commonly known as Tiburonia, named for the boat, or Granroja, a Spanish translation). With solid and beefy feeding arms instead of the usual tentacles, this large jellyfish spawned whole new areas of research, the results of which we will be exploring this week with the deep sea jellyfish. A common misconception is that deep sea animals are translucent or not colored, since there would be no light to display these colors. But scientists are finding out that the deep oceans are FILLED with lights - almost everything has some kind of bioluminescence. In fact, submerged observers have claimed that when the lights of their submarines are turned off, the entire ocean glows and glimmers, with little blue and green lights flashing and darting around like a hyperactive night sky. And this is exactly why Big Red Jellyfish aren’t clear: because gelatinous skin is transparent, filling your insides with glowing and shining prey would just make you one big giant target, so they block the panicked and revealing flashes of the animals they are digesting with thick, dark pigment. It’s a pretty common tactic, as we will see in the coming posts.
Feb 14 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #15: Fried Egg Jellyfish - yes, that one 

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am sending you my most beloved gelatinous denizen of the deep, the Fried Egg Jellyfish of the Pacific Northwest (Phacellophora camtschatica). This very large and very easy to recognize animal is well known to all of the world’s subarctic climates, especially here in the Puget Sound where it is known, ironically, as “the one that stings.” For one thing, ALL jellyfish do, that is the definition of jellyfish, but for another thing, these ones don’t hurt people - that, or I have developed Fried Egg Jellyfish immunity, because I have encountered and tested their potency numerous times, and have never felt a sting from one. I love the size and colors of this jellyfish, and I love how it stalks the calm tides of the Sound like a bright ghost, gobbling up smaller jellyfish and fish and crustaceans. It’s medusa or bell is covered with clear jelly dimples, and it feels alien and amazing to the touch. Speaking of petting them, all of the photos today were taken by me! Happy Valentine’s everyone!

Feb 13 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #14: Fried Egg Jellyfish - not that one…the other one

In the Puget Sound, one of our most well-known jellyfish is the Fried Egg Jellyfish, but I’m not talking about the local one (Phacellophora camtschatica). I’m talking about the Mediterranean version (Cotylorhiza tuberculata). While a few different species of jellyfish enjoy the “fried egg” description, this one really pulls out all the stops when it comes to emulating over easy, with a large, clearly defined “yolk” at the center of a flat, white bell. Beneath the bell are the animal’s feeding arms and tentacles, bunched into tightly packed branches with purple and white spots. It probably makes me the most giddy when I see it. I mean, look at it! Bonus - it’s harmless. For more on the more nearby Fried Egg Jellyfish…well, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. 

Feb 12 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #13: Nettles 

Stinging Nettles, Sea Nettles, Common Nettles, and “Those Cool Orange Ones” are just a few of the different names for the dozen or so species of jellyfish known as Chrysaora (yes, like the mythological Greek son of Poseidon and Medusa). If you look up “jellyfish” on any image search engine, you will typically find some species of Nettle, usually illuminated with orange lights against a starkly contrasting blue background, and that is because these are some of the most popular aquarium attractions in places like Vancouver Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute (aka MBARI - that’s where I want to work! That, or Friday Harbor).

But wait, aren’t nettles stinging PLANTS? Yes, and in Latin those plants are called cnida, which is where the entire jellyfish phylum gets its name: Cnidaria. Tiny hairs all along the jellyfish tentacles are attached to spring loaded harpoons inside of venom-filled cells called cnidocytes. Once those hairs are triggered - usually chemically or by touch - the harpoon rockets out of the cell into the prey’s flesh, filling them with the venom. This is why you don’t use urine to alleviate stings - the chemical reaction could set off more cnidocytes. This is also why a good rule of thumb when it comes to any jellyfish is “don’t touch it.” But photograph the hell out of it, because they are truly beautiful.

Feb 11 '14

Jellyfish of the Day #12: Mauve Stingers

Starting off the second week of fancy jellyfish is the Mauve Jellyfish, known in Europe as the Mauve Stinger. Nasty welts? Yes. But one of nature’s prettiest gelatinous creatures - which is saying something. 

If you find that you’re hearing more and more about jellyfish in the news, it’s probably because their populations are exploding around the world. While jellyfish are gaining notoriety for showing up in large numbers, they’re ALSO showing up in large numbers where they’ve NEVER BEEN BEFORE. The Mauve Stinger is the bane of beaches in Italy and Spain, but in 2011 large smacks of this Mediterranean species filled hospitals with upset tourists and shut down surfing on COCOA BEACH. Florida is no stranger to jellyfish, but no one had any idea what these even were, and they showed up by the MILLIONS. Jellyfish invasions are becoming a less surprising occurrence, and scientists have no idea why they’re blooming, or how they are sneaking across entire oceans. Spooky? Sure. But, at least in this case, pretty as hell.

Feb 11 '14
Jellyfish of the Day:  Tumblr Jellies - Ha ha!

Jellyfish of the Day:  Tumblr Jellies - Ha ha!