This summer, there’s a magical feast for your eyes underway at the Ty Warner Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, where the upstairs exhibit space is filled with various jellyfish, their whisper-like bodies illuminated with changing colors as they float through a handful of circulating tanks. It’s not a big exhibit, but it’s definitely 15 or so minutes well spent for any age, which makes for a good hour-long visit when you throw in the center’s other, more permanent oceanic displays.
I visited last Saturday, and with just my iPhone in hand, easily took the crazy photographs displayed here. To bolster these pretty pictures with a bit of nutrient content, I sent a few questions about the exhibit to the center’s aquarist Jennifer Kolbauer, and she answered them for me below.
Where do you get the jellyfish for the exhibit?
Two of our species of jellies came from Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and Cabrillo Aquarium in San Pedro. The majority of the jellies have been propagated here at the Sea Center. Collecting them at the surface or by scuba diving are alternate methods to obtaining jellies but not as easily found. I do expect to start seeing jellies more frequently since “jelly season” began in June and will end in August.
Is it particularly hard to set up and/or maintain? They seem sensitive, and lots of moving water is involved.
Taking care of jellies is definitely for the more experienced aquarist. There is a lot of work in both feeding and cleaning their custom-made circular kreisel tanks. Also, varying species of jellies require specific flow rates, which is dependent upon their location in the wild. Since these gelatinous creatures are made up of 95 percent water, you can imagine how extremely delicate they truly are.
Did anyone get stung in the process?
Nope! Special cleaning and feeding tools were designed to limit the contact between an aquarist’s hand and the jelly. We also make sure to wear gloves to protect our hands in the case of handling or transporting any jellies. Luckily, the majority of our jelly species (moon jellies) have a very mild sting. Although, people can actually have an allergic reaction to the venom, which is why no one should ever touch a jelly on the beach. Even if it is dead, the stinging cells can still fire their harpoon-like barb without warning!
How many fish are there? Do you go through many of them during the length of the exhibit or do they survive the whole time?
I am assuming you are referring to jellyfish? Just to clarify to the public, instead of calling them “jellyfish,” the scientific community refers to them as “jellies” because they are actually not in the same classification as fish. This misnomer with the terms jellyfish as well as starfish (seastar) can be somewhat misleading!
So to answer your question, we are showcasing three species of jellies: Northeast Pacific sea nettles (four of them), lion’s mane jellies (four), and moon jellies (50-plus). We have a ton more of these species because I am constantly propagating moons for our life-cycle display. Most of our jellies have a life span between six months to year in an aquarium facility, so, yes, there will be a change of species throughout the two-year exhibit.
Have many people come to check them out?
On average, more than 70,000 come visit the Sea Center every year. Since the Jellies Exhibit just opened in March, we don’t have official numbers, but I can tell you that there has been a definite increase in the amount of visitors coming specifically asking to see this exhibit. I imagine since this is a two-year exhibit, we anticipate an increased visitor turnout overall.
Anything else cool to add?
Just as sharks tend to get a bad reputation, jellies sometimes do, too, unfortunately. However, what most people may not know is that crystal jellies actually are aiding in cancer research by using their florescence as a genetic marker to observe cancer growth rates. So even though jellies do have the capability of hurting someone, they also may have the indirect ability to potentially help someone.