The Cadence and the Sting of the Jellyfish

The soothing cadence of motion is mesmerizing.

The soothing cadence of motion is mesmerizing.

By Andrea Cano

My eyes and spirit core are mesmerized by the gentle propulsion of the opaque “bell” and the graceful unfolding of the white, fleecy tentacles. The one beauty is soon enveloped by two others with their spiraling arms and grasping tentacles. The complex tangle smooshes over and over and lingers for a handful of seconds. Then, slowly and carefully, they relinquish each other’s strands and separate intact.

I don’t know exactly what happens during those seemingly serene encounters encased in large glass containers, but the soothing cadence of motion always draws me to the jellyfish exhibits in most aquariums.

Both the Pacific Sea Nettle (Chrysaora fuscescen) described here and the Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), among my favorites, hold fascinating and transparent qualities. The nettle is a common free floating scyphozoan, from the Greek word “skyphos” or cup, which flourishes in the Pacific Ocean from Canada to Mexico.

I won’t get into how there are 2,000 jellyfish species worldwide or what they eat or reproduce, because it is more enjoyable just watching them.

Andrea Cano at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

Andrea Cano at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

Of course, then, there are the moments when some of us have actually touched them. Rather they have zapped us with their irritating secretions. My first time was on the northern shore of Ecuador in the playas de Muisne, then a rustic beach town in the province of Esmeraldas. The salty breeze beckoned me to the water’s edge and I waded into the bathwater warm waves. Soon I felt the pin pricking up to my thighs. Ouch!!! The “aguamalas” (Spanish term for jellyfish, literal translation: evil water) were attacking. Seems a swarm came in with the tide and a whole slew of us bathers stumbled as quickly as possible out of the surf. I was advised to put wet sand on my legs and that helped.

Of course the refreshing bielas were a great consolation when I met up with my friends at the three sided, palm frond and bamboo structured “restaurant” run by an elderly Afro Ecuatoriano. As Don Julio offered platters of fried fish plus bolones de verde and patacones, he explained it was most likely the full moon. He knew a lot about everything. His ancestors freed themselves in 1553 from slavery when the ship they were on capsized. (Read more here.) And now descendants comprise about one-tenth of the Ecuadorean population.

So I thought more about Don Julio’s comments about the effects of moon phases and tides and read more about them. Essentially, jellyfish also go with the flow of the currents and turbulence. Only when some of them grow polyps can they attach themselves to something, but most of the time they float.

In another occasion, the aguamalas were also on the attack as a group of us snorkeled south of Puerto Vallarta. They were very transparent and only when the glint of the sun bounced off a more opaque feature could you see them. While they were small and their sting not as painful, it was enough to force us out of the water.

So my dear Pacific Sea Nettle, Moon Jellyfish, and your zillion cousins throughout the salty seas, as I appreciate your evolutionary history, physiology and feeding habits, defense mechanisms, even your randy reproduction, know that I am grateful to admire you from afar and from the other side of the glass, to exhale and slow down my frenetic rhythms to match yours and think about the ebb and flow of my own life.

A chaplain at Legacy Health Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington,  the Rev. Andrea Cano takes every opportunity to get to any shore where there is an aquarium nearby.


Editor’s note: Andrea is a jill-of-all-trades: an ordained minister, a former journalist, a social justice advocate,  a former chair of the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs (that’s how we met) — and a foodie.

Tomorrow: “The need to escape and create” by Eric Wilcox

4 thoughts on “The Cadence and the Sting of the Jellyfish

  1. Andrea – Like you, I find myself entirely mesmerized when watching these creatures undulate in their aquarium tanks. I’ve avoided the stings so can only appreciate them for their varied beauty.

  2. Fascinating creatures for sure, Andrea. I’m really intrigued by their increase in some waters. And I, like you, love anything that helps me let go, and go with the flow.

  3. I have never know a jellyfish expert and groupie! Love it. And as I read this, I thought, “The jellyfish exhibit is often my favorite part of an aquarium visit.” The movement is fantastic. They leave me feeling the same way I do when I get to sit and watch flames. Cheers to the jellyfish! (By the way: Thanks for serving the patients at Legacy in Salmon Creek.)

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