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Right Under Your Feet: Glowing Jellyfish Wash Up on Oregon Coast

Published 09/07/21 at 8:27 PM PDT
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

Right Under Your Feet: Glowing Jellyfish Wash Up on Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – The central Oregon coast has been seeing runs of something a little unusual lately: hordes of a particular kind of jellyfish washing up that have a freaky feature no one knows about. Not that it's obvious by any stretch, however. (Photo: the Crystal jelly at San Marine Beach, courtesy CoastWatch / Pardiatthebeach)

The Crystal jelly (Aequorea victoria) keeps getting spotted up and down the coastline, washing up in great numbers at times. A couple of things make them unusual: mostly the fact they are bioluminescent, meaning they glow. However, you won't get to see that unless you spot them still alive. They only do that while still in the water, not lying around dead on the beach.

It turns out we don't get to see these too often as well, according to Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium. She told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in 2020 there was a run of them all summer that year too, and that was curious because they're not as commonly found washed up as other jellyfish like the Moon jelly.

The volunteer group CoastWatch has been spotting them and documenting it this year, with quite a large run a week ago around the beaches of Yachats and just south of Waldport. On September 1, the group noticed thousands of them in the San Marine Beach area as well as up by Big Stump Beach. Back in early August, quite a few were found at the Tokatee Klootchman access between Florence and Yachats.

The Crystal jelly is often referred to as the Water jelly as well.

Why do they wash up in great numbers?

What makes them strand is currents and west winds. Since jellyfish aren't swimmers much at all, they're at the mercy of winds and where the water takes them. If there's a run of west winds, they get shoved onshore.

The question then remains: why so many? Experts don't really know for sure, but it's known sometimes there are simply a great number of creatures in an area for whatever reason. And if they're there at the wrong time (or right time), they get affected by what is taking place in the environment.

According to University of Washington's Claudia E. Mills, these guys are also different in that the bioluminescent glow they give off is green, rather than the usual neon blue the bioluminescent phytoplankton give off when we see that on the Washington coast or Oregon coast. In the sand, those phyto's – known as dinoflagellates – give off a green / blue spark when you walk on them.

Mills said the mechanism for glowing is different, due to a flourescent molecule called GFP (green fluorescent protein) in the crystal jelly.

In the inlet waters of the Washington coast they can be found. Mills said if you pick them up and shake them, 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 slightly dotted ring – a bit reminiscent of an eclipse.

Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium

In the sands, they look like see-through coffee lids with their serrated, fanning design.

“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. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Courtesy Seaside Aquarium: Crystal jelly in its environment

Courtesy CoastWatch / Pardiatthebeach

Courtesy CoastWatch / KFunk

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees nearly 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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