Denizens of the Deep

A few years ago, the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer was on the third and final leg of 57-day expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. Its remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, called Little Hercules was deployed in the water approaching an unidentified shipwreck. The Okeanos was streaming its mission live, and I watched it from the comfort of my home office in the middle of Texas, though I felt like I was in NASA’s control center during a moon landing. We explore our own oceans as if we were aliens, relying on high-tech gear to electronically reach down into this strange and foreign world. The feed on my computer screen was divided into quadrants. The top left was from the ROV’s video camera. The quality of the image was outstanding, better than the video camera I used for my kids’ birthday parties. A second quadrant showed the control room on […]

Continue reading

Beyond Medusa

My last post on how jellyfish got the name Medusa made me wonder about names of jellyfish in general. Have other cultures seen the same connections between jellyfish and the monster? Or do they see the angel side of the jellyfish, the diaphanous graceful aspect? It’s not so easy to find answers to these questions on the internet. Language translators tell you the spelling–often in letters I can’t read–but never the meaning. The only name that popped up when I searched Google was on Buzzfeed’s list of wacky Welsh words. In Wales, jellyfish are commonly called “cont y mor,” but also “psygod wibbly wobbly,” or wiggle wiggle fish, which is what you’d get if you could make up the equivalent of an onomatopoeia for a word’s meaning. (And somehow it’s not surprising that Buzzfeed has published a list of wacky Welsh words. What is surprising is that they don’t already have a list The World’s 10 Most Interesting Names for Jellyfish. Back off Buzzfeed! This […]

Continue reading

Medusa

Who doesn’t love puppets on strings? My kids, that’s who. Despite bribes, neither one would join me at a community theater marionette production of Perseus and Medusa. So, there I was, the only solo adult in the theater – don’t judge. If they had joined me, my kids would have been captivated as our hero, a dashing toga-clad Perseus, learned that in order to save his mother from her evil suitor, he must slay the beast Medusa. Several scenes later, in a gloomy maze-like palace, the monster was revealed. A purple and green snaky creature, her voice growled, her eyes flashed, and wild serpents seethed around her head–which Perseus duly chopped off. Poor Medusa. As the namesake of all swimming jellyfish, I’ve been reading up on her backstory. She started as a beautiful girl, the child of two ancient ocean deities. Athena asked the graceful Medusa to […]

Continue reading

Jet-Set Jelly Blooms

Summer is a time when jellyfish party, and this year is no exception. For the last few months, all around the northern hemisphere, it’s been a jelly bash. Starting in the Pacific, here’s a globe-trotting tour of what’s been happening beneath the waves. In early summer, I wrote about the vast regattas of by-the-wind sailor (Velella velella) surfing down the west coast of the the U.S. Recently, another gelatinous animal, the crystal jelly (Aqueora victoria), famous for its display of blue luminescence has been lighting up Oregon beaches. Jaws is back in theaters and great white sitings are in the rise on the Atlantic coast, but jellies have been striking fear in the hearts of East Coast swimmers too. The warm Gulf Stream delivered a puff of stunning –both visually and in its sting — Portuguese man-o-wars to mid-Atlantic beaches this summer. A little farther north, the shallows of Cape […]

Continue reading

Horsemint by Any Other Name

Near my house is a piece of land that has been long forgotten by most of Austin. It’s an oasis hidden behind a row of ugly rectangular government buildings that intimidate trespassers. People with dogs that like to run off leash whisper its location to one another. That’s how I found out about it. The space is roughly a rectangle about 75 acres in size. People and dogs have worn a loop around the outer perimeter that passes through a field on one side and ancient stands of pecan and live oak trees on the other. Sometimes feral monk parakeets squawk in their branches. A trail bisects the loop, and if you push on towards the creek at the end of that path, you can find a clearing in the overgrown forest. Someone has built a tree house in one of the massive oaks, boards nailed […]

Continue reading

By-the-wind Sailor

Since April, hordes of bright blue jellies have been stranding themselves on the Pacific coast. Reports from Oregon and Washington started washing in mid-April with numbers of jellies in the thousands. They swept down the coast to northern California where reported abundances reached millions. When the jellies surfed into southern California in early May, news stories claimed billions of cookie-sized azure animals carpeted the shoreline. Not just beaches, but coastal waters have been inundated. The Columbia River sector of the Coast Guard has responded to nine potential oil spills that turned out to be floating armadas of indigo jellies. The species of jelly blanketing the Pacific coast goes by a number of names, all equally poetic. The Latin name of this animal is the melodic Velella velella, which means “little sail,” and that’s one of the common names of the creature too. But it also goes by purple sail […]

Continue reading