Jellyfishes: Terrifying Beauties

“From nearly microscopic tinkerbells to golden giants whose bells loom larger than beach umbrellas, you couldn’t dream up more exotic jellies than already exists”
-Nora Danes, Jellies Living Art

And terrifying they are, particularly if you happen to be swimming in the ocean and finding one or more pulsating their way in the water right next to you. Or even worse falling on top of them while learning to ski, this actually happened to my brother and not only it was scary but it was very traumatic to see how much pain he was in. Fortunately those jellies were not the poisonous type and he recovered very quickly. But the truth is I did grow up fearing these creatures that we call “malaguas” meaning bad waters, because many times when the sea is infested by them, even if they don’t touch you, it is impossible to get into the water without feeling their stinging effect.

Pacific Sea Nettle, Chrysaora fuscescens. The origin of the genus name Chrysaora lies in Greek mythology. Chrysaor, which means “he who has a golden armament”, is the brother of Pegasus and the son of Poseidon and Medusa

So what are these beautiful animals? Jellyfishes along with corals, anemones and hydroids belong to the Phylum Cnidaria, these are very ancient invertebrates who are not really fish. All of them have stinging cells in their tentacles called cnidocytes. These cells are unique to this phylum and are the reason for its name.

As primitive as they are -their fossil record goes back to 700 million years- jellyfishes are among the most successful organisms in the natural history of this planet. If you think about it, dinosaurs have come and gone yet jellyfishes, as well as their cnidarian cousins are still around. The medusae particularly were the earliest animals to evolve muscle powered swimming in the seas. Although they are not strong swimmers this fact has helped them achieve diverse and prominent ecological roles throughout the world’s oceans.  Besides being food for other predators, jellyfishes provide habitat for many juvenile fishes in areas where there are not many places to hide, and many young crabs that are not in swimming mood often hitchhike on the top of their bells.

All this is great, but why I decided to write about them now? Simply because they have an hypnotic effect on me. I can stay hours watching their dancing movements, they look like ballerinas in beautiful and colorful dresses. They have a relaxing effect -as long as there is a big piece of glass between me and them. And because I’ve been collecting video clips of different jellyfishes during many visits to different aquariums in the U.S., I decided to venture into the “movie making” world and produce a short video of all the jellies I’ve seen until now. Before watching the video bellow please note that I’m not a videographer, I’m a photographer who’s just experimenting with video.

A jellyfish swims by using its muscles to contract its bell forcing water out and pushing it along. The muscles then relax and the bell opens again.

The most challenging thing in this process was learning to use Final Cut Express (instead of iMovie) and the most fun part was selecting the background music. I tried many different styles, but the movement of the jellyfishes is not in a standard tempo. The speed is different for every type of jelly including jellies of the same species, it depends on the shape and the volume of their bells. I couldn’t find the right tune until one day while I was listening Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade on my car, I had my eureka moment as soon as the second movement began. I knew I had found the ideal music background, but I’ll let you be the judge.

For more information on the biology, ecology and behavior of jellies you can visit The Scyphozoan Wiki

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