Jellyfish Spawn

Pelagia Orgy Credit: Dario Lopes
Screen grab from the jellyfish orgy shot by diver Dario Lopes

Years ago I visited the Aeolian Islands, the tiny chain that looks like dirt flinging off the the Italian boot after it’s just kicked Sicily.  I remember blue seas, incredible calimari, stony beaches, and being simultaneously terrified and thrilled to see ash tossed from an active volcano on the island of Stromboli.

This week footage from the seas around the archipelago is making jelly news. Spear fisherman Dario Lopes was out on a dive off the island of Lipari, when he became part of what is unquestionably the biggest orgy he’ll ever experience. He swam headlong into thousands of violet and golden jellyfish getting it on.

The jellyfish in this genus, Pelagia, take their name, which means open ocean, from their atypical life history. The majority of jellyfish release eggs and sperm into the water column where they meet and form larvae, which settle on to a hard surface and become an anemone-like polyps. Later, much after the medusa are long gone, the polyps bloom and release baby medusa called ephyrae. But the Pelagia have no polyp stage, the animal lives its entire life floating in the open ocean. The eggs and sperm are fertilized in a plume that hovers under the medusa’s bell where they directly become baby ephyrae.

Pelagia are notorious in the Mediterranean because they are found everywhere and because they have vicious stings that terrorize tourists. In fact, my yoga teacher is just back from the Amalfi coast where she probably bumped into a Pelagia that tattooed a perfect three-inch wide medusa on her forearm with its sting.

Luckily, Lopes was covered head to toe in wetsuit so he was able to witness the jellyfish frenzy safely. Also, he was carrying a video camera, and it was rolling. It’s an incredible scene, and though I’m tempted to crack a jellyfish porn joke, it doesn’t work because there’s something really touching about the video. Endless clouds of pinkish ephyrae swirl about the intertwined tentacles of thousands of adult medusa like babies being rocked in a stringy hammock.

When Lopes posted the footage to his Youtube channel, and titled it “Invasion of Medusae,” La Stampa and other Italian news agencies picked up the story and reported a jellyfish emergency in the middle of what is usually a booming tourist season. Visitors and islanders fled the island in fear. Authorities pointed the finger at Lopes for the lost revenue, but he defended himself. “The Mayor of Lipari was angry. The president of my hotel association too. But all I did was post yet another video to my channel about life in the sea.”

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