Over the Moon With New Jellies

Today’s blogger is staffer Jose Bacallao, senior aquarist at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Winter can be brutal in So Cal. I know all the East Coast transplants in L.A. are rolling their eyes right now – but it’s wet, cold and windy here, too.  Moreover, working as an aquarist at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium – shorts and flip flops being the uniform of choice – December can really hurt. Yes indeed, it hurts from our little toes to the tips of our fingers.

So, whether it’s hot or cold, we have to get in the water once a week to collect kelp and other organisms for the Aquarium. Collecting is a top priority as our animals need fresh algae, live mysid shrimp and other animals to thrive on exhibit, enabling us to educate the public and the students from hundred of schools that visit annually. This past week we went “jelly fishing”.

Over the past four years our team of aquarist staff and interns has been culturing and exhibiting Moon Jellies. We work hard to grow our sea jellies in-house and culture new “baby jellies” (ephyrae) to avoid having to collect live sea jellies from the wild. But over the past several weeks, following two power outages, we lost the majority of our moon jellies. The power outages devastated our culture and exhibit program. After much discussion and debate, staff agreed the time had come to bring in a few wild specimens and “start over” again. This was an exciting opportunity not only to revitalize the Aquarium’s sea jelly culture, but also to involve our aquarist interns on a fun collection trip.

We spent a few days communicating with colleagues from other aquaria in order to find the best collection spot and after getting a great tip, we decided that our best shot would be trying a secret spot in Long Beach. We were very anxious for the next morning and our chance to collect new moon jellies. Although moon jellies aren’t very good swimmers (they’re plankton after all) we knew that just because they were spotted on Monday didn’t guarantee they’d be there Tuesday morning. A lot can happen in just a few hours, just ask the Lakers and Chris Paul.

When we arrived the next morning, we were stoked. In the back section of the bay we spotted about 300-400 moon jellies. The collection plan was very direct and easy. Our interns were to walk the docks with buckets and collection bags and access the jellies from land, while Seth and I collected from the water. I’ll be honest, I had never tried the latter method but I had a really good feeling about it. You see for the past few months we’ve been spending our lunch hour on our stand up paddleboards (SUP) so we thought, why not? 

Let me tell you, there is no better way to collect jellies than on my C4 iSUP! Aquarist Seth Lawrence on his board and me on mine, with coolers, nets and bags and in no time we had collected our targeted amount. Together we collected 25 adult moon jellies. We carefully bagged our jellies for transport, careful to keep them free from air bubbles, treated our interns to a celebratory “victory coffee” and drove them back to the Aquarium. They are now on exhibit at the Aquarium and we are working hard to start a new culture of baby jellies. With some luck and cooperation from the moon jellies, we hope to be back to tip-top shape by end of winter.

Meanwhile, come visit these graceful creatures on exhibit at the Aquarium or for a meaningful holiday gift, aquadopt one ยป