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Myrtle Beach aquarium: Beautiful, mysterious jellies

John and Christine Krenn, vacationing from Fort Worth, Texas, view a large tank full of jellyfish at the Myrtle Beach aquarium.
John and Christine Krenn, vacationing from Fort Worth, Texas, view a large tank full of jellyfish at the Myrtle Beach aquarium. jlee@thesunnews.com

Make no bones about it. Even without eyes, brains, blood, a hard skeleton and a specialized digestive system, jellyfish arouse a fascination.

“Planet Jellies” is in a new wing within Ripley’s Aquarium at Broadway at the Beach, in Myrtle Beach, all with a sting to stimulate and educate with spectacular views and extra understanding of these creatures – and six kinds are on display.

Just walking into this new, permanent gallery you might feel like you’re entering a darker, but enlightening world, especially with the soothing music and all the tall mirrors and rotating illumination of colors on the various tanks.

Moon jellies, named because from above they look like Mother Earth’s lone satellite, cover the world’s oceans, mostly in coastal tropical areas. Specimens were flown into orbit in 1991 for studies on weightlessness. Determine gender by the color of the four horseshoe-shaped reproductive glands: white for male, pink for female.

Take your pick of sea nettles – Atlantic and Japanese, each in their respective quarters. Descriptions by each tank state that the former’s tentacles might reach almost 20 inches in length; the latter attracts fish to hitch a ride inside its golden brown bell/umbrella, for access to this passive hunter’s catches.

One display details the life cycle of a jellyfish: Larvae hatch and attach to something stable to grow into polyps that sprout tentacles for feeding, then generate more polyps that split into hundreds of offspring that have the chance to mature into what are called medusas. Those adult-stage jellies, depending on the gender, later release eggs or sperm and – if fertilized –will start a new round of nature’s cycle.

Another narrative stresses that jellyfish never attack humans, but that people brush against or step on them, possibly incurring an ouch. Note the tips about treatment, such as not rinsing with fresh water, but using vinegar or a baking soda paste, to lessen a sting’s pain.

One tank in the middle of the gallery, close to the touch tank for moon jellies – where two fingers stroking the bell top of one will yield a memorable, soft, sting-free experience – contains two species that stand out. The spotted jellies, in myriad shades of blue or brown, with white spots, contain four clumps of oral arms that pulsate as they swim in any direction up or down. Below them, check out some upside-down jellyfish, which rest on their flat bells on the sandy bottom, with their appendages radiating upward absorbing light to nurture the algae inside their tissues and to catch plankton to eat.

The upside-downs might never know their world is upside down, either, especially because in the wild, crabs might carry one of these jellies atop its shell for extra self-defense.

Stacia White, a senior aquarist on the staff, called the upside-downs her favorites – “totally different than the jellyfish” of which people typically think. Explaining that they don’t just float, but are “strong swimmers,” she said they like to find a bright spot in the Caribbean Sea’s “shadow bays and inlets” without a whole lot of flow, then stay there.

“They get a lot of nutrition from sunlight,” White said, “just like plants with photosynthesis, and like coral.”

One thing White observed when the show opened is that people’s fear of jellyfish subsides with increased awareness and up-close access to these critters.

Light ’em up

The reflective images and lighting also enhance the jellyfish tanks, she said, because jellies’ translucence really picks up color.

“When you change those light colors,” White said, “you can actually almost see different aspects of their body.”

Overall, she said, Planet Jellies provides “a different way to kind of let people connect with animals.”

White said that in the oceans, jellyfish often move in a mass as if they’re “forming one huge jellyfish,” like fish gather in schools, oysters in beds or dolphins in pods. She has a word for that jelly cluster: a smack.

Want to go?

“Planet Jellies” is on display at Ripley’s Aquarium, at Broadway at the Beach, 29th Avenue North between U.S. 17 Bypass and Robert M. Grissom Parkway in Myrtle Beach. The aquarium opens at 9 a.m. daily; through summer, it closes at 10 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; 11 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays; 9 p.m. Sundays.

“Planet Jellies” is included in aquarium admission: $23.99; $15.99 ages 6-11; $6.99 ages 2-5.

Details/advance tickets: www.ripleysaquarium.com

Feeding times

▪ Sharks: 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday.

▪ Sea dragons/sea horses: 1:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday-Sunday.

▪ Jellyfish: 3:30 p.m. daily.

▪ Piranha/Rio/Amazon: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday.

▪ Giant Pacific octopus: 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

▪ Caribbean spiny lobsters: 8 p.m. daily.

Daily summer dive shows

▪ Rainbow Rock tank : 11 a.m. and 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 p.m.

▪ Mermaid show, Ray Bay: 11:30 a.m. and 1, 2:30, 4, 5:30, 7, 8:30 p.m.

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