Sunday, June 28, 2009

Invasion of the Jellyfish

BALTIMORE, MD - Most people recognize jellyfish, or sea jellies, by their unique transparent bell shape and long dangling tentacles. Gently they float along with the current, waiting to sting an unsuspecting swimmer or washing up on the beach, flattened and rather yucky looking.

A new exhibit, "Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance" opens this Saturday, May 23, 2009 at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Here is your chance to learn more about these mysterious creatures and see their beauty up close, without fear of being stung. There are seven different species in a separate exhibit area that showcases their diverse structure and colors. Interactive displays in the area provide short video clips, photos and text, to highlight the devastating impact these animals are having on our world today.

Related to Anemones and Corals, the early stages of the jelly look more like plants on the ocean floor. The familiar shape and texture of the jellyfish we see in the ocean are the free-floating adult medusas. Most of us wouldn't recognize the early stages of their development, as they change dramatically, through several body changes until they become the wandering adults we know as jellyfish.

Jellies have survived some 650 million years and are the largest of the plankton family. The title of the exhibit "Jellies Invasion" isn't a marketing catchphrase but a warning of the damage being caused around the world by increasing populations of Jellies. The introduction of North America's Leidy's comb jelly in the Black Sea has devastated the local fishing economy and was responsible for the collapse of the anchovy industry. We often hear about non-native species invading America but seldom hear the reverse. It is suspected that ships traveling from North America picked up the Leidy's comb jelly in their ballast tanks and were later discharged into the Black Sea. Capable of producing 2000 to 3000 eggs per day, it is almost impossible to eradicate the jellies once they are established.

Other factors suspected to be the cause of increased jelly populations are global warming and overfishing. There is plenty of debate over global warming, add this to controversy. Overfishing and pollution leave a void of fish where jellies can reproduce without predators keeping them in check. Remember the publicity about fishing nets catching and killing sea turtles? One of the mainstays of the sea turtle diet is jellies; a single sea turtle eats hundreds of pounds of jellies a day. Less sea turtles equals more jellies.

The exhibit is small but very well appointed with interactive learning tools and roving experts who are happy to address your questions. The creative lighting and placement of cylindrical tanks highlight the grace and beauty of these floating gelatinous zooplanktons.

Getting there: The National Aquarium in Baltimore is located in the Inner Harbor of downtown Baltimore. opens Saturday, May 23 at 501 E. Pratt St. Tickets are $14.95 - $24.95 for general admission. Call 410-576-3800 or go to Included in the price is the Austrailia exhibit, Rain Forest, other attractions. The Dolphin show and 4D theater are an added charge.

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