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The Odd Blob That Glows on Oregon / Washington Coast: You May Find It

Published 08/20//20 at 6:11 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

The Odd Blob That Glows on Oregon / Washington Coast: You May Find It

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(Seaside, Oregon) – This summer, according to Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe, has seen a run of something weird along the Oregon coast that we don’t usually get on the beaches: a jellyfish called the Crystal jelly (Aequorea victoria). Or at least there’s been an awful lot of them washing up. (Photos Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

They look a lot like other jellies that wind up onshore here, such as the moon jelly. However, these are smaller.

“This summer, our beaches have been inundated with one species in particular: the crystal jelly,” Boothe said.

At first, they look like see-through coffee lids with their serrated, fanning design. Get them in water, however, and they expand into those wondrous, intricate shapes of the jellyfish.

This one is also sometimes called the watery jelly.

“Water jellies are found along the entirety of the West Coast, from Alaska to California. Like all jellyfish, they're scientifically categorized as a plankton,” Boothe said. “Water jellies can't move against the ocean's currents, and are thus at the mercy of local ocean conditions.”

They have some 100 poison-laced tentacles, she said, though the crystal jelly can’t hurt humans.

The Odd Blob That Glows on Oregon / Washington Coast: You May Find It

Photo above of the crystal jelly in water: this is simply light reflecting off it, not its glowing look. See here for the crystal jelly glowing.

“They are, however, laced with nematocysts,” she said. “Nematocysts are specialized cells that contain a barbed, sometimes venomous structure, shaped like a coiled thread. Nematocysts occur in animals scientifically grouped as coelenterates; anemones are another coelenterate which also uses nematocysts.”

At one point they were extremely abundant on the Washington coast, primarily the inland sea and bays. According to University of Washington’s Claudia E. Mills, that was from the ‘60s through the ‘80s.

“The water jelly is hunted and consumed by other larger jellyfish, such as the Brown Sea Nettle and the Lion's Mane Jelly,” Boothe said. “There are even documented cases of water jelly cannibalism. It's hard to blame the jelly, though, because with no heart, blood, or brain, it just might not know any better.”

The most extraordinary thing about this critter is that it’s bioluminescent, meaning it gives off a glow at times. Like the tiny phytoplankton called dinoflagellates that are causing glowing sand along the coastlines of Oregon and southern Washington (along with the glowing waves), these guys have a natural process that does this. (Astounding Glowing Waves (and Sand) on Oregon Coast Right Now )

What’s different about the crystal jelly, according to Mills, is that this one gives off a green bioluminescence, whereas the phytoplankton glow a neon blue in the water (blue / green sparks if you find them in the sand). The mechanism for glowing is different here, due to a flourescent molecule called GFP (green flourescent protein) in the crystal jelly.

According to Mills, up in Washington you may occasionally spot the crystal jelly in the waters of its inland seas. If you pick up and shake it, the jelly may create a small, green glowing ring. This is how its bioluminescence works in the ocean as well: it shows up as a weird, slightly dotted ring – a bit reminiscent of an eclipse.

Mills said you may even find some glowing particles left on your hand after you put the creature back.

On the Oregon coast, when you find them lying around beaches, they’re dead. They won’t glow if you wait for nightfall.

Another fascinating aspect is how they reproduce. Boothe said early in their life they band together and create what are called hydroid colonies – just gobs of them stuck together. They eventually grow bigger and wander off on their own.

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