Posts Tagged 'jellies invasion'

A Delicate Balance: Inside the Jellies Lab

Described as mesmerizing, beautiful, even otherworldly, jellies are unique in the animal kingdom. Not technically fish, they have no heart, brain, blood or bones and are 95 percent water.

Most closely related to corals and anemones, their pulsing translucent bod­ies drift an unchoreographed dance based mostly on water currents, not choice.

The full life cycle of these incredible animals actually takes place at the Aquarium, as baby jellies grow up and are cultured by skilled aquarists in what is referred to as the jellies lab.

Bringing Up Jelly

Jennie Janssen, Manager of Changing Exhibits, is in charge of the jellies lab, located on Pier 5 in the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, and Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance on Pier 4 inside the National Aquarium.

Janssen and her team of aquarists are responsible for many species, includ­ing moon jellies, lion’s mane jellies and Atlantic sea nettles.

In the lab, the Jellies team cares for a community of jellies, raising them until they are large enough to go on exhibit. Sometimes there are hundreds of babies being cul­tured, at other times as few as five or six.

During a visit to Jellies Invasion, guests can sometimes see what look like baby jellies pulsing alongside the adults, but in fact they are more like teenagers. Jelly babies are extremely small, developing from tiny polyps (resembling small sea anemones) that attach to the inside of their exhibits.

Polyps are collected from exhibit walls and viewing windows and allowed to attach to petri dishes in the lab. There, they are fed, kept clean and encouraged to strobilate, releasing free-swimming ephyrae. At just 2 millimeters, these ephyrae are easy to miss, except by those with a trained eye.

moon jelly polyps

Once the ephyrae are released, they ride the water flow into a larger container where they grow until they are big enough to be put on exhibit.

There’s No Place Like Home

While specific jelly species have different exhibit needs, they are generally cared for in the same ways. Jellies eat zooplankton, small fish and other jellies in the wild. Jellies at the Aquarium eat brine shrimp, grown by the Jellies team, two or three times per day. As the jellies grow, their food gets larger as well.

A precise balance of water flow, salinity and tem­perature is critical to a viable jelly-breed­ing program, and sophisticated water measurement technology allows aquarists to keep careful watch over the conditions.

jellies lab behind the scenes

The size and shape of the tank, in addition to the direction and speed of water flow, are important in ensuring the jellies don’t rub against the walls or become tangled. The aquarists on staff are constantly tweaking the instruments and engineering the tanks to make sure that flow is perfect for these drifters.

In fact, Janssen says that getting that water flow rate just right is one of the hallmarks of a great jelly aquarist. And the Aquarium’s Jellies team is among the best. Not only do aquarium-raised jellies appear on exhibit here in Baltimore, but many are sent to other aquariums for their exhibits…kind of like a jellies invasion!

Adventures in Jellyfish Collecting

Blog-Header-AnimalExpertUpd

When planning what species to display in Jellies Invasion: Oceans out of Balance, we knew it would be important to include species found in local waters. To keep our exhibits full of jellies, National Aquarium staff venture out to the Chesapeake Bay throughout the year to collect the following local species: Atlantic sea nettles (Chrysaora quinquecirrha), Leidy’s comb jellies (Mnemiopis leidyi) and Lion’s mane jellies (Cyanea capillata).

Our most frequented spot for jellyfish collecting is on the Eastern Bay, off the southeast end of Kent Island. This past weekend, we launched from my family’s waterfront property located in the southeastern region of the island. My nephew, Joe Cover, Jr., a resident of Kent Island and an avid fisherman, is my unofficial jellyfish monitor/assistant. He keeps me posted on when and where he is seeing groups of jellies.

Ideal jelly-collecting conditions include a moving tide (to raise jellies to the water’s surface), little to no wind and a cloudless sky (the mostly transparent Leidy’s comb jelly is almost impossible to spot when the sky is overcast). There are times when you believe the conditions are ideal, yet few or no jellies are found at the surface. When this happens, my standard line is, “You know, we have just been outsmarted by an animal that has no brain.”

jellies collecting trip 2013

We were glad to see calm waters and no clouds this past Saturday!

Equipped with collecting bags, five-gallon buckets, glass beakers and special plastic jelly-collecting nets, we motored out to the middle of Eastern Bay. The water was a bit choppy, but I stopped the boat as soon as I saw a “slick,” a narrow band or area of still water among the light waves. Natural slicks are sometimes formed when concentrations of microscopic diatoms gather at the surface and release natural oils that change the surface water’s density and retard the formation of ripples and small waves.

As we slowly drifted along with the wind and tide, we started to see Atlantic sea nettles and large Leidy’s comb jellies (a whopping 3 to 4 inches long) pulsing along the surface. We were in the right place at the right time! Upon further examination of the water’s surface, we saw thousands of tiny copepods (zooplankton) gathered – another great sign! Jellies continued to surface to feed on the copepods and, in some cases, each other. Yes, some jellyfish (like Atlantic sea nettles) include other jelly species (Leidy’s combs) in their diets.

I started filling collecting bags placed in five-gallon buckets with Bay water.

jellies collecting trip 2013

Jellyfish have no bones and little body structure. In fact, 96 percent of a jellyfish’s body is water! A delicate jelly can easily be injured if it is removed from the water or rubs against any abrasive surface. To avoid injuring our specimens, we used smooth-sided beakers to corral the jellies. The jelly is then moved, in water, to one of the water-filled plastic bags in a bucket. The beaker is submersed into the bucket and tilted to gently release the jelly.

jellies collecting trip 2013

Care must be taken to prevent the creation of air bubbles, which can get trapped in the jelly’s tissues and injure it. This is why beakers containing jellies are not poured in from above the water’s surface. Leidy’s comb jellies are especially fragile and must be transported with extra care.

In addition to their delicate body structures, quick temperature changes can be detrimental to jellyfish. It was relatively cool on this sunny afternoon, and the water in the buckets was staying close to the temperature of the Bay water. In a relatively short period of time, we filled six five-gallon buckets to capacity with jellies.

We headed back to the dock to prepare the buckets for transport to the Aquarium’s Jellies Lab. Prior to loading the buckets into the car, air is removed from each bag, which is then sealed with a rubber band. After loading up the car, I headed back over the Bay Bridge to the Aquarium. The car’s air-conditioning kept the jellies at their preferred temperature.

Once at the lab, the buckets of jellies are unloaded and the rubber bands are removed to allow gas exchange to the water.

The final leg of the jelly-collecting process is to slowly acclimate these jellies to the water in an exhibit or holding tank. I hand this part of the journey off to the Jellies staff. All incoming jellies need to be slowly acclimated to both the temperature and the salinity of our exhibit water. This process can take several hours or several days depending on how the salinity of the Bay and our exhibit waters compare.

Jellyfish continue to fascinate and amaze our visitors. We’re glad to provide our jellyfish gallery as a wonderful resource to connect people with our local jellies!

Jack Cover

Jelly Swarm Invades Pier 4

A new swarm of jellies has invaded the National Aquarium’s Baltimore venue… and they’re right over your head!

The Jelly Swarm is an original art installation in the Aquarium’s Pier 4 atrium, just outside the entrance to the Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance exhibit. Our Exhibits & Design team worked with Stephen Seigel, who created the jelly lights for Seattle’s Experience Music Project, to develop their design concept. They then went to Dillon Works for final design, fabrication, and installation of the piece, which was installed this week.

 

More than 600 individually painted jellies in seven different shapes and textures comprise the piece, made of vacuum-formed polycarbonate. Altogether, it weighs more than 1,000 pounds.

Here’s a description of the concept from the designers:

As guests approach the Pier 4 atrium they’re greeted by hundreds of translucent, iridescent jellies that sweep down through the space. Crossing the balcony to the stairs they walk under the swarm. The colors shift in the sunlight and the jellies move gently with the currents of air. Following the flow of the jellies, guests descend the stairs and come under the swarm. Soft colors and shadows animate the whole atrium.

This art installation was supported by a donation from an anonymous donor, and was inspired by the many qualities of jellies that intrigue us—their translucent beauty, graceful pulsing movements, otherworldliness, and massive numbers.

Come to the Aquarium soon to see both The Jelly Swarm and the real jellies in our exhibit!

What’s behind the sting?

This weekend marks the start official start of beach season! Every year around this time we start to hear more about jellies because people see them while visiting beaches and swimming in oceans. But unfortunately, the interactions we tend to have with jellies in the ocean are not very pleasant ones.

Recently, a young girl from Australia was the chatter among medical experts around the world for her amazing recovery from a “deadly” jellyfish sting. We all know that jellies have the power to inflict pain to us humans, and have heard that some jellies can even be deadly.  So is her survival of a box jelly sting a miracle?

Box jellies are not a part of the Jellies Invasion exhibit, so our experts don’t have to deal with them on a daily basis. But when asked, Aquarist Vicky Poole said, “As this is a creature with one of the most toxic venoms in the world, I’d say it was a miracle.”

The odds of surviving a severe box jelly envenomation is extremely rare. Box jelly stings have a 20% mortality rate, which includes both severe and mild cases, but the extent of the sting, covering her entire leg, is what makes her survival such a surprise for her doctors.

So what’s behind the sting? Jellies are animals without brains (or hearts, for that matter), so there is no “decision” about stinging. They indiscriminately will sting anything they happen to bump into – prey (for food) or predator (for defense). Vicky reminds us that it’s really their survival strategy…sting first and ask no questions later!

What happens when a jelly stings? Their tentacles have tiny microscopic stinging cells called “nematocysts” that look like fishing harpoons with barbs that penetrate our skin, and then stay in place while the venom is injected into the body of the victim. There is often pain at the site, and usually you’ll notice localized swelling or welts due to the skin’s reaction to the toxins. Depending on the species of jelly, the body’s reaction will vary in severity, and some people have a more severe reaction than others. In extremely toxic species, severe reactions may involve difficulty breathing, coma, or even death.

Let’s bust some myths – can anything really treat a sting? Although weak acids (like vinegar) and very hot water have been reportedly used to neutralize jelly stings, your body will still react to the venom in your system so pain management is needed. And if you’re in areas where dangerous species of jellies exist, Vicki suggests that you seek medical attention immediately. After all, she’s no doctor, just a humble jelly aquarist!

Even though these brainless, heartless creatures instill fear among beach-goers around the world, they are truly fascinating creatures that are an important part of our marine ecosystem. This summer before you hit the beach, we invite you learn more about jellies. You can start by exploring the Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance website!

Jellies make for interesting art

Jack Cover, the Aquarium’s general curator of fishes and rainforest exhibits, refers to jellies as living  lava lamps. Many exhibits around the country show jellies as living art.  Visitors see them as majestic and mesmerizing. When visiting our new Jellies Invasion exhibit, one local reporter referred to them as being “other-wordly.”

jellyfish1_1414867c

There seems be a new form of jellies artwork…a 600 ft crop circle in a jelly pattern that recently appeared in a barley field in UK! It’s gaining a lot of media and tourist attention as one of the most intriguing crop circles ever seen in Britain. Click here to read more about this amazing form of art.

Have you seen any cool jellies artwork?

Jellies Invasion is here!

Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance is now open at the National Aquarium! For a sneak peak at the exhibit, visit our new Jellies website!

Print

How has something with no brain survived for millions of years? Learn more about these amazing animals and what makes them so unique. Get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to maintain living Jellies, learn about the species featured in the exhibit, and play the Jelly Quest game!

Jellies are survivors

pacific-sea-nettleOne of the reasons Jellies are invading the oceans is because they can survive environmental changes that have negatively affected other forms of sea life. Did you know jellies have survived for over 500 million years?!They were here even before dinosaurs.

The key to this survival is their ability to adapt and thrive to changes in the environment. Jellies appear to be better able to survive in polluted water than other forms of aquatic life. Runoff  may be a cause for increases in jellies populations. Excess fertilizer from our yards runs into our waterways fueling algae blooms and the creation of low oxygen “dead zones” in the Bay and in the ocean.  Jellies are able to survive and thrive in these degraded water conditions.

Continue reading ‘Jellies are survivors’


Sign up for AquaMail

Like us on Facebook!

Twitter Updates