Monterey Bay Aquarium: Jellyfish Photos

1 Jan

OCTOBER OF 2016 WAS MY LAST POST on this blog site; 14 months IS a long “break”, but I’m hoping that this entry on the first day of the new year will mark my re-entry into the world of nature photography. So this is me cautiously dipping a toe in the water…

West Coast Sea Nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) Monterey jelly 7

On December 8th I paid a long-overdue (re)visit to the wonderful Monterey Bay Aquarium. It had been more than 30 years since my first trip to this eye-popping example of the aquarium architecture genre, and though I was suitably impressed with the degree innovation and creativity of the scores of new species and display media instituted in my absence, the one that attracted my starving lens was the big jellyfish tank.

This is not your average-sized easy-to-view human-scale “fish bowl”-type eye-level display: the view through the 20-foot by 15-foot pane of glass is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This photo gives you an idea of how this tank is crowded with critturs.

West Coast Sea Nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) Monterey jellies 11

West Coast Sea Nettle jellies (Chrysaora fuscescens). At the center-right, note the two jellies colliding with each other in the crowded tank. 

The wonderfully eerie interior lighting accentuates the gorgeous sunset hues of red, orange, and yellow of the umbrella-shaped bell and trailing tentacles and arms of these West Coast Sea Nettles (Chrysaora fuscescens). Considering that a jellyfish’s bodily tissue (called mesoglea) is composed of more than 95 percent water and its skin is only two cells thick, it’s amazing how colorful the animal appears to be in the right light. Although it was difficult for me to judge the actual size of the largest jellies in the tank (due to the parallax effect of the intervening glass’ thickness), I’d estimate that their bell diameters exceeded 18 inches.

The most prominent organs of a jelly’s anatomy, aside from the bell and tentacles, are its ring-shaped reproductive organs (gonads) and the stalk-shaped manubrium hanging down from the center of the underside of the bell. It is surrounded by oral arms that connect with the mouth/anus at the base of the bell. This opens into the gastrovascular cavity, where digestion takes place and nutrients are absorbed. The manubrium is joined to the radial canals that extend outward to the margin of the bell, where tentacles are attached. Instead of a brain and central nervous system, jellyfish have a loose network of nerves positioned along their epidermis. Some jellyfish have ocelli, light-sensitive organs that do not form images but which can detect light and are used to determine up from down, responding to sunlight shining on the water’s surface.

West Coast Sea Nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) Monterey jelly 9

The elaborately frilly oral arms and dark-colored strands of the marginal arms drape several feet behind these West Coast Sea Nettles. 

Another large tank housed some Purple-Striped Sea Nettles (C. colorata), a larger (up to 2.3 feet in diameter) species that exists almost exclusively in and near Monterey Bay. The upper surface of its bell typically displays a radial pattern of mauve stripes that are darker or lighter in color, depending on the animal’s age.

Purple Striped Sea Nettle (Chrysaora colorata) Monterey jelly 2

A solitary Purple-Striped Sea Nettle (Chrysaora colorata) pauses near the camera to “pose” for a close-up. The four long pink and yellow oral arms are clearly visible, trailing several feet behind the animal. The thinner and shorter marginal arms hang from the rim of its bell. C. colorata is easily distinguishable from C. fuscescens by the smaller number (eight) of marginal arms.

The C. colorata in the following photograph displays the distinctive radial pattern of mauve stripes typical of a mature adult jelly.

Purple Striped Sea Nettle (Chrysaora colorata) Monterey jelly 10

A fully mature adult Chrysaora colorata displaying the characteristic radial coloration pattern.

Click HERE for real-time views of the inhabitants of the large Open Ocean tank.

Another smaller tank housed a large number of Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita), a smaller and less spectacular species of jellyfish. These jellyfish are translucent, usually about 25–40 cm (10–16 in) in diameter, and can be recognized by its four horseshoe-shaped gonads, easily seen through the top of the bell. Several individuals’ gonads displayed various shades of red to dark pink coloration; not sure why, butt it is suggestive! A recent study has found that A. aurita are capable of lifecycle reversal where individuals grow younger instead of older. 

Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) Monterey jelly 4

Four Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita); the four pinkish-red organs are gonads.

 The admittedly clever reverse-aging trick not withstanding, the Sea Nettles were my favorite subjects.

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