A Smack of Jellyfish

Vancouver Island, British Columbia – As I stood motionless over an enormous blob of amber jelly, a woman cautiously approached me. I was attempting to capture an accurate image of a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, freshly beached and glowing with vibrant color.  “They are quite tasty,” she called out. Her comment broke my concentration, but my heart danced at the thought of learning more about the mysterious creature before me from someone who had not only seen and touched one, but had also tasted it.

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The sandy beaches of eastern Vancouver Island are treasure troves for finding creatures who have washed up or are temporarily beached until high tide.  One such creature is the otherworldly jellyfish.  Jellies are not really fish at all, but boneless, heartless, and brainless orbs, who nevertheless exhibit extraordinary design. The common names for the most plentiful jellies in the Northwest waters are moon jellies and fried egg jellies.    The largest jellyfish in the world is the Lion’s Mane Jelly, which can grow  hundreds of tentacles extending over 100 feet. Preferring cold water, this species can be found washed up on the beaches around the Salish Sea.

Jellies are marine animals known as Cnidarians which include jellyfish and other stinging organisms. They have specialized cells along their tentacles called cnidocytes, which are able to inject a mixture containing venom through a barbed filament. The mechanism regulating movement of the filament is among the fastest and most effective biological processes in nature: it takes less than a millionth of second with the force of 70 tons per square centimeter at the point of impact. A mind-blowing design feature for a boneless, heartless and brainless creature.

Jellies are also quite striking in appearance. Their transparent bodies are unlike any other creature.  They exhibit radial symmetry and if split in half, each part would generate another jelly. The reproductive organs can be seen as colorful structures, suspended under gastric pouches where food is digested.  To see them in action is mesmerizing as they use the mechanics of jet propulsion to push through the water.

Moon Jellyfish

The stranger on the beach was happy to explain how she and her Asian friends pour boiling water over the jellyfish to prepare it for eating. I looked all over and was relieved when I couldn’t find a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish recipe. Shucks! What I did find was the idea of using jellyfish as a substitute for potato chips. I am not kidding. Read it for yourself in the UK Telegraph article entitled Jellyfish crisps: the Ready-Salted Treat Making Waves in the Snacking World.

You just never know what you will learn when you begin to track wonder… Bon Appetit!

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Where and When: Our bays are full of jellyfish in the summer months. It is really good to find a marina or dock where you can survey the water from above. Watch for the opaque white moon jellyfish pulsing in the water. They are very common around here and have a mild sting, if you feel them at all. We often paddle through large smacks of moon jellies when we kayak or paddle board. Aquariums are the best place to see them underwater. If you spend a fair amount of time tracking wonder on the beaches, you will eventually see a Lion’s Mane Jelly washed up.  Amazing sight.

Wonder Triggers for Young Trackers

  • What do you think jellyfish are made of?  Do you see skin, muscles, organs?
  • Do jellyfish breathe? If so, with what?
  • How do jellyfish move?
  • What colors do you see when you look at a jellyfish?
  • Do you think jellies glow in the dark? How would that help them?
  • Do you think you would be willing to try a bite of jellyfish?
  • Do you think jellyfish have eyes, ears or noses?
  • If you find a washed up jellyfish, be careful not to touch it with your bare hands. What are other ways you can inspect and explore potentially harmful animals?

References and Resources

How Stuff Works – How Jellyfish Work

Shark Reef – Great pdf information sheet for kids

Animal Corner – Jellyfish Reproduction

Oceana – Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

Mental Floss – 15 Facts About the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

NOAA – November 3 Happy World Jellyfish Day – Jellyfish “Greatest Hits” Video Footage

Images – Sharon Pegany, Copyright 2018, Slideshow images – publicdomainpictures.net