In Pittsburgh on May 27, 2011 at 12:00 am

An excerpt from my Nature & Environmental Writing class. We were asked to maintain journals about environmental concerns. Photograph of jellyfish tank, Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium.

Some facts about jellyfish.

  • They inhabit every ocean.
  • They are often called “medusas,” after the Greek villainess who grew snakes instead of hair.
  • I saw my first jellyfish on the beaches of Maine. It lay, purple and round, like a land mine. I was astonished, when warned away from it, that a gelatinous blob could sting me. How could something so passive (unmoving!) be so dangerous, merely by existing?
  • Jellyfish congregate in “blooms” — great clouds of jellyfish, incorporating thousands, that float together.
  • They can cause major problems. Such blooms can cause damage to fishing nets and may poison fish populations. They have been known to shut down power-plants and desalinization projects.
  • It still seems incredible to me that such animals, which aren’t fish, have no spines, no brain, limited mobility, etc., could be so communal. Are they drawn to one another? What do they feel (longing?) when they’re alone? Is feeling even possible with a mere “nerve net”? What draws them together, these creatures that absorb food, have no digestive tract, are 90 percent water?
  • I came close to a 2-ft.-diameter jellyfish in Malaysia, where I was lost in the jungle and had to cross a lagoon. I mistook the jellyfish for a trash bag, and when I realized my error, I was halfway across. Many species of jellyfish in this part of the world can paralyze and kill their victims.
  • As a rule: The jellyfish tank is always my favorite part of any aquarium. There is a Taoist peace to their flotillas.
  • Jellyfish are routinely eaten in China, seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil.
  • I wrote a jellyfish into my latest play, although it is never seen on-stage. (Will be performed in April).
  • In 2006, a full 19,000 swimmers were treated for jellyfish stings in Spain.
  • I have never been stung by a jellyfish.
  • But I would definitely eat one.

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