Jelly Delight

Featuring student artwork by guest artist Miranda Andersen

Written by Denise Dahn


What do you see when you look at a jellyfish?

Painting by Miranda Andersen, age 13. Pacific Sea Nettle Jellyfish, Chrysaora fuscescens


In many aquariums, jellies are the star performers

I love the underwater dome room at the Seattle Aquarium, where I could spend hours surrounded by swimming salmon and halibut, and my favorite: wolf eels. And I love the near-shore habitat exhibits with sea anemones and the tanks with marine mammals—especially the adorable sea otters.

But when it comes to jellyfish…well, no one does jellies like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The first time I saw their jellies exhibit, it took my breath away. I remember reaching the end of the quiet, darkened corridor, stepping into the exhibit room and feeling like I had entered a different world. The surround-sound classical music, the dramatic lighting, the glowing colors and the graceful, rhythmic movements—had I been transported into the middle of some fantastic underwater ballet?

Jellyfish are beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. Even though they are animals, the design of their bodies reminds me of flowers, with brilliant repeating patterns and lacy, translucent, petal-like membranes. They are simple creatures, with no brain or organs —only a mouth, a stomach and gonads. They move by contracting their bell-shaped bodies and propelling themselves through the water, but mostly, they float, drifting wherever ocean currents take them.

It’s also amazing to consider that these animals are some of the oldest creatures on earth. Recent fossil finds in Utah have been dated to half a billion years old. That’s millions of years before life first existed on dry land, and hundreds of millions of years before the age of the dinosaurs. And unlike so many of their contemporaries who went extinct, jellies are still around. They must be doing something right.

In fact, some people think jellyfish are a little too successful. Recent “blooms” of jellyfish populations may be signals of major disruptions to coastal ecosystems. Some blame overfishing, which eliminates the top predators of marine habitats and allows jellyfish populations to explode. Others think pollution and global climate change are more to blame.

When I look at jellyfish, my mind drifts back to the distant past, to the early eras of life on earth when evolution was sorting things out with millions of years of trial and error. I also think about the future and the challenges we face with accelerating changes in earth’s ecosystems.

But mostly, when I look at jellyfish, I’m right in the present moment, being hypnotized by the pulsing, rhythmic dance of those delicate underwater flower-creatures.

What do you think of when you look at jellies?


About the Artist:

Miranda is a 13 year old and documentary filmmaker who produced her first film at nine years old. The film is about a local hatchery and the threats to both the salmon population and habitat.

Other documentaries followed, including, in the fall of 2011, a piece called “Forever Plastic” about a Vancouver resident who is trying to live plastic-free. The film also features a story about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. Another of her films, documents the efforts of a sociologist turned artist, who is bringing attention to the issue of global deforestation. Another one of her films was on the topic of e-waste (electronic waste), and features an ethical e-waste recycling organization called Free Geek. She is currently working on a film on the subject of nature deficit disorder and recently visited the author who coined in the phrase in San Diego.

Miranda’s films inform people in a visual way about environmental issues. Through her documentaries she has become a sought after speaker and source of information in her community.

And, as you can see, she is also a very talented painter!

Check out Miranda’s blog,

Watch a short video where Miranda discusses her work.


For more about jellyfish

Read a National Geographic article about the jellyfish fossils

Peanut butter and jellyfish sandwich, anyone? Ponder the future condition of coastal habitats,


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