Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jelly Jelly

Every year around the end of August and the beginning of September the little aquatic paratroopers start appearing in English Bay.  Acting as the advance party of some secret mission, they quietly sail through the ocean currents, guided by their translucent chutes, towards some mysterious landing spot.  At first they're only a few in number but they are quickly joined by reinforcements and, within a week or so, they are numbering in the thousands.  Suddenly, the invasion is under way and the Bay has been completely taken by surprise.

Moon Jellyfish
Are they really from this planet or could they be friendly extra terrestials?  Are they escaping from somewhere? Is this a way station or the final destination? What is it they have come here for? Is there some special substance in our waters they are wanting to take back with them?  Are they shields for some microscopic creature that will eventually mutate into something completely different?  Can they communicate?

A lot of fantastical questions are created in my mind as I swim through all the little Moon Jellyfish, who are doing their best to ignore me as they go about their business.  I feel their gelatinous bodies bouncing gently and harmlessly off my own and, as I dive under to take a closer look, it seems like I'm in the middle of a strange underwater galaxy.  In actual fact what's happening is a spectacular orgy, and everyone is taking advantage of the perfect water temperature to really get it on before saying goodbye to this life cycle.

Who would have known, but at least they don't bite or sting, unlike another type of jellyfish which also shows up at this time of year, the Lion's Mane.  At an average diameter of 4 - 6 inches the little Moonies aren't even in the same league as the Lion's Mane which are the world's largest jellyfish, growing up to 8 feet in diameter and having a thick array of tentacles, resembling the mane of a lion, that trail up to 90 feet in length, (though the ones I've encountered are generally a third of this size).  They pack an amazingly nasty sting that can leave your arm feeling very sore and painful for hours if you make the mistake of accidentally touching it (which I have) and there are even stories of people dying after being stung.  Even the ends of the tentacles can leave your skin feeling numb if they happen to graze your face or hands.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish

Feeding on zooplankton, small fish, moon jellies and unsuspecting children, the only good thing about the Lion's Mane is they are usually easy to spot and they don't show up in large numbers. Like the Moon jellies they have only a one year life span and, while they spend most of it in the open ocean, they show up in sheltered bays at the end of the year to breed and die.  Their main predators are sea turtles, who like eating jellyfish of any description but must really like their food hot and spicy if they eat these beasties (actually they are immune to the sting).  Unfortunately, sea turtles also get confused by plastic bags that end up in the ocean and try to eat them as well, even if it clogs up their digestive tract and kills them.

With the arrival of the autumn equinox and the end of summer the jellies have suddenly disappeared, and I can swim now without fear of being attacked by a Lion's Mane or being captured by an alien landing party of Moonie sex fiends.  There are over 2,000 species of jellyfish in the world but, thankfully, only a few ever show up here.  Technically they aren't even fish.  Still you have to admire how they get around, and their great sense of rhythm as they pulsate through the water.  Jelly jelly baby.


  1. I'm so glad that you got in a shot about ocean littering (plastic bags). It's time humans realised the consequences of their actions. Loved today's story!