Animal of the Week: Pacific sea nettle

Pacific sea nettles are found in the Pacific ocean, most commonly off the coasts of Oregon and California. They are less common west to Japan, north to the Gulf of Alaska and south to the Baja Peninsula. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Coast Aquarium)

The Pacific sea nettle or chrysaora fuscescens are among the more mesmerizing creatures to watch at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. These creatures have little color to them, but the golden-brown bell with a reddish tint is distinctive among other sea jellies.

They are also quite long, with 24 ribbon-like tentacles that range in length from 12 to 15 feet.

Those tentacles are an essential part of the sea nettle’s hunting strategy. These carnivorous creatures paralyze prey with their stinging cells, and use their four oral arms to chow down on their catch. The diet of a Pacific sea nettle includes zooplankton, copepods and other sea jellies. Yet, despite this sting — which is painful to humans, but not paralyzing like it is for smaller creatures — tiny animals, like juvenile crabs and small fish, hide in the folds of the jelly to catch a ride, and some species of sea turtles and marine birds choose the Pacific sea nettle as a meal.

But that meal may not be as meaty as you might expect. Sea nettles are invertebrates — they don’t have any bones — and they are 95 percent water. They navigate the world using their elementary nervous systems, which are like a net throughout their bodies that allow them to detect light and scents around them.

Because they almost entirely made up of water, sea jellies who wash up on the beach are usually a lost cause. With their lack of brain and delicate bodies, jellies will drift where the tide and currents move them, rather than piloting themselves to a particular location, which is why they are often seen washed up on the beach.

If you’ve ever been curious about what one of these gelatinous creatures feels like, don’t touch one stranded on the sand — they can still sting after death. Visitors of the Oregon Coast Aquarium can learn more about sea jellies and satisfy that curiosity with the Sea Jelly Touch Encounter, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at how the aquarium cares for and grows the jellyfish who live there. To learn more about the encounter or schedule a time to try it out yourself, visit aquarium.org/animal-encounters-and-tours.

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