When you cover as much water as we do in a week, it is easy to feel proprietary about the islands and creatures found therein. We all feel like we know and own the orcas, trees and birds. We even feel a fondness for the slimy spineless creatures, and who wouldn’t when they make up most of the biomass (living bulk) of the ocean? So, the orcas are fabulous and I could not be happier that we have been continuing to see them everyday, but I think that the invertebrates need some love too. This is my ode to them.
Moon Jellyfish. Photo courtesy of m_stephens
Cross Jellyfish. Photo courtesy of BiodiversityGuy
Since the all consuming category of invertebrates is way too large to cover in just one short blog, I am going to pay particular homage to the Cnidarians (ni-DARE-ee-ans). This complex group of animals includes the mysterious and beautiful jellyfish. As with all of the other creatures found in this phylum jellyfish have the ability to sting, sometimes fatally so. The other stinging animals in the phylum are sea anemones, corals and hydra (no not the mythological monster). It is the ability to sting, and the cells associated with that power, that gave the phylum its name. Cnidocytes (ni-doe-SITES) are cool little mechanisms of chemical engineering that shoot out stingers that can burn and kill if you are the right kind of food or an unlucky swimmer. Not all cnidarians are dangerous though. It is completely possible to touch an anemone without anything happening other than feeling like the tentacles are stuck on your finger. There are also many corals that will just scratch without causing horrible burning and some jellyfish can be held in your hand without any untoward affects at all.
Lion's Mane Jellyfish. Photo courtesy of BiodiversityGuy
Egg Yolk Jellyfish. Photo courtesy of Scubaboard.com
In the San Juan Islands there are four types of jellyfish that are readily seen. Two small species can be seen floating in the harbors around the docks and pilings. Two larger species, one of which is the largest in the world, are more easily seen out in open water from a boat or kayak or while diving. Moon jellies are recognized by the four-leaf clover pattern that shines through their bell, the curved top part, and cross jellies have just what their name suggests, a bright white “X” that crosses their bell. Lion’s mane jellies are the largest in the world and are known by their deep russet coloration. Here in the Salish Sea we do not get exceptionally large ones like they do on the East Coast, with the largest ones recorded having bells that were more than 6 feet across with tentacles that reaching 100 feet in length. Finally, egg yolk jellies also look just like their name suggests, a raw egg that has been broken open with the yolk and whites exposed. It is the lion’s mane and egg yolk jellies that divers and kayakers have to be aware of while in the water. These jellyfish have the long hanging tentacles that carry very strong stinging cells. The small moon and cross jellies have simple, short fringe-like tentacles along the edge of their bells and are not potent enough to harm humans. The potency of the lion’s mane jellyfish is so well known in England, that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featured it as the killer in the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”.
So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you out there with a painfully stinging wit, thank you and we will…
See You In The Islands!