It's much easier to say "jelly fish," but these gelatinous creatures are not fish. They belong to a group of marine invertebrates called cnidarian and pronounced nye-dare-ee-un.
Late last month two species made quite a showing in lower Budd Inlet: the Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) and the Lion's Mane (Cyanea capillata).
My friend Marian first alerted me to the Moon Jellies, which appeared in masses called "smacks". She was out rowing with her team in the dory and sent me the beautiful photographs below--taken from her cell phone--and the following note:
The area they congregated in was about 25' x 25' x 10' deep (conservatively). We hazarded a guess of hundred thousand jellies!!! Wow, what an experience. We just drifted around over them and watched their beautiful movements. I picked up a small one and then a larger one and was amazed at how dense it was. Very heavy for it's size. I expected it to be about as heavy as water, but it was about twice that heavy. Photos were taken with cell phone cameras as we didn't have a real camera with us!
The white rings on top are actually gonads (the sex organs)--immature ones. The "ripe" ones are yellowish pink or violet on female jellies, and yellow, yellow-brown, rose-colored on males. Young jellyfish are called polyps, mature ones, medusa.
to see a fabulous short video of the moon jelly life cycle, complete with sound track. I am trying to track down (next blog?) information on the annual appearance of these smacks in Budd Inlet.
The photo below looks like Monet's impressionistic painting of his water gardens at Giverny.
The next day, I rowed over to Ellis Cove and saw another type of cnidarian, the Lion's Mane jelly (below). These jellies (also called "sea blubber or sea nettle) were huge--the world's largest jelly fish. They can reach 8 feet in diameter, though in Puget Sound they grow to about 18 inches across. The whitish, opaque bell is divided into lobes from which 150 shaggy tentacles hang; some tentacles on the specimens I saw were about 10 feet long. This jelly is highly toxic and causes severe burning and blistering. Using its much-folded membranous lips and feeding tube snout, it feeds on small fish and crustaceans.
In my Audubon guide to the Pacific Coast, the authors note that, "In Sir Arthur Conan Doyles' story 'The Adventures of the Lion's Mane,' Sherlock Holmes solves a homicide caused by contact between the victim and this medusa in a tidepool."