Friday, October 23, 2020

The invaders that came from beneath the sea


A strange, golden glob appeared in the sparkling water...

It opened like any really bad horror movie should... 

…with a peaceful, idyllic scene. Dozens of families relaxed on a white-sand beach near Monterey’s Cannery Row on a balmy Sunday in October. Children played in the surf and squealed with delight. Young couples strolled hand-in-hand along the strand. And a grizzled old paddler launched his red kayak into the gentle surf. That would be moi. 

...and began clustering around me
Only a few yards beyond the small breakers, I encountered a strange, golden blob in the sparkling turquoise waters. Jellyfish. Not one or two, but dozens jammed together in a floating island.

As I cautiously paddled closer for a better look, I noticed that several jellies had silently begun to surround my kayak. And then realized jellies were surfacing all over the bay. 

An instant of panic was quickly overcome by inspiration. What a great idea for a sea creature horror movie! I whipped out my waterproof camera and filmed a few underwater snippets. Fortunately, my stylings as a film auteur were perfect for the horror genre – grainy, jerky, slightly unfocused video. I could already see my very own starfish on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

But those dreams were dashed when further research showed that someone else thought of this idea first. And did it so much better than I ever could. How do you top radioactive, mutant jellyfish? Especially with a title like “Hellyfish,” a 2014 horror spoof that was cheesier than a holiday sale on Hickory Farms cheese logs. I turned seaweed green with envy as I watched the movie trailer.  (See the jump page of this post. And switch to full screen to get the max effect.)


Okay, now that we've gotten past the horror (horrible?) puns and delusions of fame and fortune, some actual facts. I had never seen so many jellyfish -- more properly known as "sea nettles" -- in Monterey Bay or anywhere else. So I consulted Kim Fulton-Bennett, a public information specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for some scientific perspective. 

“It is actually fairly common for large numbers of sea nettles to appear near shore in Monterey Bay, especially in the fall,” he said. “At this time of year, open-ocean water from offshore sometimes flows into the bay and brings jellies closer to shore. The jellies may also reproduce locally when the waters of the bay are relatively warm and stable, as they often are at this time of year.” (Check out Seasons in the Sea for more info on marine seasonal variations.) 

Look but don't touch
Whether in numbers large or small, it's also worth noting that sea nettles fall into the do-not-touch category with their toxic, stinging tentacles. But they aren't radioactive, and they don't chase people down the beach. Sorry, "Hellyfish," but some of us listen to science. 

Several years ago, the Monterey Aquarium created a temporary jellyfish exhibit, and it became so popular that jellies are now a permanent fixture at this world-renown marine attraction. Jellies aren’t as fearsome as great white sharks or as cute as the sea otters that frolic in the bay, but they are fascinating, graceful and weird marine creatures without blood, brains, bones or fins. 

In fact, said Fulton-Bennett, the aquarium research institute has researchers who specialize in jellies, and a Web site that documents jelly sightings. “You might find some interesting information about large ‘smacks’ of sea-nettles by exploring this site,” he suggested. 

Unfortunately, as of this writing, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its jelly tanks are not open to the public, due to Covid-19 restrictions. But the aquarium has an outstanding Web page with extensive info about jellies, including this sea nettle video

Photo outtakes.... 

Sometimes, a photo pops up during a paddle that doesn't quite fit the storyline, but it's just too interesting or funny to ignore...this is one of those times.

While spotting jellies on Monterey Bay, I learned why it's called the "poopdeck"

© 2020 Glenn Brank