Jellyfish, over easy

Photo of a Fried Egg Jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica) at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

An unexpected sight while paddling in the Nanaimo Harbour last week: dozens of Fried Egg Jellyfish lazing just below the surface of the waters in Newcastle Channel. 

These distinctive jellyfish come by their name honestly: each one looks like an egg that’s been cracked into the water – from the bright yellow “yolk” at the centre of its white dome-like body (called the bell) to the yellow tentacles trailing behind like streams of broken yolk dispersing into the sea.

I’d seen a few of these guys before, from shore, but this was my first sighting from my kayak. I see them so rarely that it was definitely a surprise to encounter so many in one spot. I can only speculate that the significant reduction in marine traffic in the Nanaimo Harbour due to the COVID-19 restrictions has transformed these usually busy waters into a quiet, appealing space for these slow-moving jellies.

The Fried Eggs I saw were undoubtedly early in their lifecycles – some were tiny, no larger than actual eggs, while the biggest had bells about the size of tea saucers. All had a long way to go to reach the 2’ wide, 20’ long proportions they can hit at maturity!

Here are a few facts about these eye-catching jellies:

  • They don’t move much. In fact, they often appear completely still, as if dead. (I thought the first Fried Egg Jelly I saw was dead, until, after a few minutes of watching and wondering, I spied its bell pulse ever so gently.) These guys prefer to simply drift with the current – the easy way to get around.
  • They like to hang out near the ocean bottom in areas that aren’t too deep, then make occasional migrations to the surface. They also frequent “dead zones” where oxygen levels are too low to support most marine life – sometimes staying there for several hours.
  • They are carnivorous predators (a surprise, given how slowly they move). They like to munch on gelatinous zooplankton and smaller jellyfish (like moon jellyfish) that get tangled in their tentacles. They coat these delicacies in mucous before pulling them up into their mouths.
  • They don’t have respiratory, circulatory or excretory systems, but instead rely on the large, thin membrane covering their bodies to carry out these functions.
  • Their bodies are composed of 95% water.
  • They have a weak to moderate sting that is relatively harmless to humans, but helps capture prey and defend against predators like water birds, fish and sea turtles.
  • They have a mutually beneficial relationship with some small juvenile crabs, which ride on the jellies’ bells and eat the parasitic amphipods that also live on the bells. As the crabs grow, they may start snatching the prey caught in the jellies’ tentacles, or eating the jellies themselves! 

Have you seen Fried Egg Jellyfish in the waters around Nanaimo? Let me know below!

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