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Remarkable Oregon Coast Curiosity Coming Soon: the Water Jelly

Published 05/18/2016 at 6:11 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Photo: a water jelly at Seaside Aquarium, courtesy Tiffany Boothe

(Oregon Coast) – Here's something to look forward to on the Oregon coast as warmer weather settles in: an odd little jellyfish called the water jelly (also known as the crystal jelly). The curious little critters have some surprises. (Photo: a water jelly at Seaside Aquarium, courtesy Tiffany Boothe).

When you first see them on the beach, they look a little a coffee cup lid, or maybe plastic debris. However, they were alive not that long ago. Often, you'll see them folded over in their dried up form, but about a third of the time you'll run into some that are fresh and still transparent.

There are times when quite a few of them show up, mostly in spring and summer, when west winds and other conditions are just right.

Their scientific name is Aequorea victoria, and sometimes people mistake them for the wacky velella velella - or purple sails – which can really inundate these shores in big, purple piles. But these are different. They don't usually accumulate in such a way to make the beaches stink like the purple sails do, but they are probably responsible for some fishy odor if there's enough of them. (Above: tiny water jellies found in Rockaway Beach one summer).

Water jellies are just about everywhere in the oceans surrounding the western continent - from Alaska, down through Canada, to the Oregon, Washington and California coasts. They tend to be more common farther north in British Columbia and Washington, and thus they are a bit of a rarity when they hit these beaches.

These creatures have quite an interesting design as well. You'll first notice the radial spokes (which often resembles a coffee cup lid), especially when they're laid out flat. Scientists say they can have as many as 60 of these and may grow up to seven inches in diameter. However, along the Oregon coast most of the finds are two or three inches around, but some seem to be up around five inches in diameter.

Eating for these brainless, spineless creatures (literally, that's not an insult) is a multifaceted affair. They have a large number of tiny tentacles that are only part of that process. Most of what they consume is other kinds of jellies as well.

Seriously surprising is the fact they are bioluminescent, meaning they glow when touched or disturbed. Primarily, this happens in their natural environment, and by the time they've been tossed onshore they're too dead to light up.

What you would see, if you could, is a blue-green glow, much like the dinoflagellates – a form of phytoplankton that sometimes wash up on the Oregon coast to create tiny blue-green sparks. Except here, the crystal jelly has over 100 tiny light-producing organs, used to attract their prey.

When in the water, they have a bell, which in turn has the water jelly's mouth.

Periodically, both the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport Seaside Aquarium has had them in their tanks in the past.

Scientists say these kinds of jellyfish actually start off in a polyp state when young, then break off into tiny buds which grow into full-sized water jellies. They live for about six months.

When and if these show up is impossible to predict. It's possible there are some at this moment somewhere along the entire 365 miles of Oregon beaches - possibly quite a few. It is something else to keep an eye out for when strolling the sands. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour



Below: other jelly fish you may sometimes see at Seaside Aquarium and on the beaches (photos courtesy the aquarium's Tiffany Boothe).



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