It’s been two months since my last dive and with local Gulf water temperatures dipping into the low 60s it will be another month or two still before I descend into the blue and blow a few bubbles. The more dedicated local divers are donning 7mm wetsuits or dry suits and carrying-on with their visits into the abyss while I am reluctantly content to stay high and dry until warmer conditions return to our shores. In the meantime I’ll highlight another interesting species you can encounter diving along the Florida panhandle.
Last season on two different dives several large jellyfish were observed that most of us initially assumed were Cyanea capillata, lion’s mane jellyfish. However lion’s mane jellyfish aren’t known for being found in the Gulf of Mexico and the appearance wasn’t a perfect match. After talking with more divers and doing some research I’ve identified them as Drymonema larsoni, the pink meanie jellyfish. Pink meanie jellyfish can grow up to 3 feet in diameter with tentacles reaching 70 feet and as you might expect based on the name, are pink. They can sting, and depending upon the individual the pain can range from a little discomfort to quite painful. In 2000 they began to be spotted with regularity in the Gulf of Mexico and initially were thought to be Drymonema dalmatinum, a species found in the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas but since have been identified as a unique species.
So how could such a large species elude discovery and classification until only very recently? Jellyfish larvae settle on the sea floor where they develop into polyps and feed until they eventually release immature jellyfish into the sea. Once grown into adults, pink meanie feed on other jellyfish, particularly Aurelia aurita, the moon jellyfish, seen here. Like the plot of a horror movie, the pink meanie polyps remain on the sea floor for years perhaps decades completely unnoticed until just the right opportunity to bloom and feed on their unsuspecting prey. It might not be quite that dramatic but when there are large blooms of prey jellyfish the pink meanie polyps will produce jellyfish but in years with few prey jellyfish, the population can remain polyps and therefore go unseen.
On many dives this past season I encountered considerable moon jellyfish swarms and also remember some dives with thick swarms in 2015. It’s not surprising that with moon jellyfish about some pink meanie jellyfish would also be present. Moon jellyfish can be greater than 12 inches across themselves but they are dwarfed by pink meanie. My wide-angle lens allowed me to get close to capture detail of the tentacles and also enable my strobe to effectively light the subject. A second strobe would have been helpful for these shots; you can see the bottom of the pink meanie isn’t lit as well by my single YS-03. Pulling my strobe in closer to my port may have helped but two strobes would have made even lighting across the entire mass easier to achieve.
The pink meanie jellyfish is another interesting creature inhabiting the waters along the Emerald Coast you may encounter. Its recent discovery and identification as part of a new jellyfish family is the first since 1921 and demonstrates that our seas still contain some secrets waiting to be uncovered.
Photo taken at Whitehill Reef, Destin FL