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13 Mesmerizing Photos of Jellyfish You Have to See

Jellyfish are found in all of the world's oceans and in aquarium tanks large and small. Some jellies are beautiful and some are funny looking. But they have several things in common, including how mesmerizing they are to look at.

jellyfish isolated on black backgroundAndrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

The wonder of jellyfish

The World Atlas says that there are more than 2,000 different species of jellyfish. Many of them look like works of art, like this jelly which resembles a dancer’s frilly tutu. As beautiful as they are, many jellyfish have powerful venom in their tentacles so it’s best to keep your distance from them, even if you think you can identify the type as a non-stinger. You’ll also want to note these 20 most incredible underwater photos ever taken.

Underwater photo of tourist woman snorkeling with endemic golden jellyfish in lake at Palau. Snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake is a popular activity for tourists to Palau.BlueOrange Studio/Shutterstock

Jellyfish are everywhere

According to National Geographic, jellyfish live in all of the oceans on the planet both close to shore and in the middle of nowhere. They swim just at the ocean’s surface as well as deep down below it. Some even live in saltwater lakes, such as at Ongeim’l Tketau Jellyfish Lake in Palau. Snorkelers can swim with the jellyfish at Jellyfish Lake because the jellies have evolved so that their sting doesn’t affect humans. Another strange animal that doesn’t seem to mind human snorkelers is the immense whale shark—you can swim with whale sharks at these 11 places.

Huge School of Water Jellydivedog/Shutterstock

Jellyfish populations are increasing

Populations of jellyfish are increasing around the world. Mackenzie Neale, director of animal care and “jelly queen” at Vancouver Aquarium, says it’s because jellies have less competition for food due to overfishing and because contaminants in the ocean trigger more jellyfish reproduction. For example, she says that jellyfish polyps “love to grow on plastic” and on structures like docks and pilings. The more we add to the ocean, the more we create “prime jellyfish breeding grounds.” She adds that the slightest change in temperature, whether in the ocean or in a tank of jellyfish, triggers jellyfish “polyps to start producing more jelly babies.” While jellyfish are beautiful to look at, protecting our oceans will help keep jellyfish populations in check. Find out what the world’s most polluted beaches used to look like.

Closeup of a Beautiful Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) Suspended in Water and Surrounded with Many Other Jellies with a Soft Bioluminescence (Biological Glowing Light). A beautiful and relaxing sight.Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

Moon jellyfish

Moon jellyfish are frequently seen off the Atlantic coasts of North America and Europe. These transparent and bioluminescent beauties look like moons floating through the water, hence their name. It’s possible to see moon jellyfish both in the water and washed up on beaches. The sting of a moon jelly is mild and they’re quite easy to avoid in the water. Melanie Roberts, senior aquarist at SeaWorld Orlando, says that “moon jellies can get as big as a dinner plate.” Moon jellies are an important food source for leatherback turtles and ocean sunfish, according to Oceana. Think moon jellies are cool? You might also like these 10 spooky facts you never knew about the moon.

Hand of man holding transparent jellyfish on the background of tidal waves of Andaman Sea and yellow fine sand of a beach on desert island in Thailand. Underwater wildlife of tropical seas - jellyfishPhuketian.S/Shutterstock

Jellyfish are mostly bags of water

Only biologists and other experts should touch jellyfish—it’s bad for them and for you. There’s a good chance you could damage the fragile creatures and they could sting you. Jellyfish are invertebrates, meaning they don’t have any bones. In fact, 95 percent of a jellyfish’s body is water, according to the National Ocean Service (humans are about 60 percent water). Being made mostly of water helps jellyfish float beautifully through both oceans and aquariums. Some jellyfish even look exactly like bags of water, like these jellies from Thailand’s Andaman Sea. They’re only one of infinite numbers of amazing sights in the world’s oceans.

Orange jellyfish or Chrysaora fuscescens or Pacific sea nettle on deep blueEdgieus/Shutterstock

Free jellyfish meditation

A tankful of jellies is a mesmerizing attraction in an aquarium. No matter where you are in the world, check out some Canadian jellyfish via the Vancouver Aquarium’s Jelly Cam. It shows a live video of their deep blue tank of orange jellyfish—Pacific sea nettles—pulsating past the camera. Looking for some free meditative zen? Put the Jelly Cam up as your screensaver and then you might not even need any of these 25 ways you can relax that don’t cost a cent.

Photo of jellyfish floating in the aquarium taken in Stanley Park Aquarium, in Vancouver, British Columbia, CanadaPPphotoPajush/Shutterstock

Is that a robot jellyfish?

While many jellyfish look beautiful, some of them look comical. This little jelly is also found at the Vancouver Aquarium and it looks a lot like a jellyfish robot hybrid. Perhaps it inspired the creation of a real mechanical jellyfish robot that helps scientists study the sea. NBC News reports on a mechanical engineering team from Florida Atlantic University that developed a rubber robot that swims like a jellyfish. The robot records ocean data without disturbing sea life. Learn about more unusual animals and robots in these 13 creepy real experiments that sound like science fiction.

The jellyfish dresses in light with the sun's rays. La Paz (Mexico)Izen Kai/Shutterstock

Blueberry jellyfish

The Sea of Cortez, near Mexico’s La Paz on the Baja Peninsula, is known for its extensive biodiversity. In fact, Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium“. So, it’s no surprise that this sea has an abundance of sea creatures, including these cute non-stingers called blueberry jellyfish. About the size of a grapefruit, blueberry jellyfish are a type of cannonball jelly, which ThoughtCo. says are a favorite food of sea turtles. Find out the 22 animals that are deadlier than sharks.

Tuscany, Italy. Pelagia noctiluca Jellyfish in the sea of Elba IslandBarelli Paolo/Shutterstock

Pretty in pink but painful

This beautiful jellyfish is a Pelagia noctiluca, also known as the mauve stinger. They’re commonly found in the Mediterranean Sea and The Ibizan reports that their stings are amongst the most painful of all the jellyfish in Europe. In addition to causing blisters, sometimes the mauve stinger makes its victims vomit and have breathing problems—that’s a sign you need immediate medical attention. Don’t miss these innocent-looking animals that are surprisingly dangerous.

lion's mane jellyfish under water in sea of japan, RussiaBoris Pamikov/Shutterstock

The largest and smallest jellyfish

The world’s largest jelly is called the lion’s mane jellyfish. This cold-water giant has orange hairlike tentacles in its center which resemble the mane of a lion. Smithsonian Magazine reports that the largest was 120 feet long; that’s longer than a blue whale. Humans rarely see lion’s mane jellies, as they prefer open ocean water. Their stings can hurt a lot, but not as much as the smallest jellyfish. Called the Irukandji jellyfish, this type of box jelly is less than an inch long and is one of the world’s deadliest. These are 13 more of the weirdest deep-sea creatures.

box jelly fish photographed in aquariumDaleen Loest/Shutterstock

Deadly box jellyfish

National Geographic says that the venom of the box jellyfish is one of the most deadly venoms on the planet. It can kill the box jelly’s prey—small fish and shrimp—instantly. The toxins in the box jelly’s venom are capable of attacking not only the skin of an animal but also the heart and nervous system. That includes humans who come into contact with box jellies: many die from heart failure in the water, and those that survive report significant pain lasting for weeks after the sting. It’s hard to believe something so simple-looking is so deadly. Venom is a factor in only a few of these 12 most dangerous animal bites you can get.

Mediterranean Fried Egg Jellyfish - Cotylorhiza tuberculataVojce/Shutterstock

A gentler jelly

A jellyfish with an extremely mild sting is the unusual-looking Mediterranean fried egg jellyfish. Atlantis Diving, in Malta, reports that the sting is so mild that juvenile mackerel often hang out with fried egg jellies to hide from predators. Humans might not even feel a sting at all. Officially called the Cotylorhiza tuberculata, this jellyfish can propel itself through the water using its cilia.

Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) aggregate in an ocean gyre in eastern Indonesia. This species of jellyfish is found throughout most of the world's oceans.Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock

A fluther of jellyfish

While a group of fish is called a school, groups of jellyfish can be called by several names including smack, bloom, swarm, and fluther. A fluther of jellyfish sounds just about perfect for an animal that seems to be made of water and feathers. If you’re curious about what other animal groups are called, you’ll want to know these 27 hilarious (but totally real) names for groups of animals.

Johanna Read
Johanna Read, Canadian writer and photographer, writes about travel (including under COVID-19), wildlife, food, health and wellness, and responsible tourism. She aims to encourage travel that is culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Johanna also writes occasionally about public policy, leadership, and management. She draws on her management consulting work (where she specializes in organizational culture and employee wellness) and on her background as a Government of Canada policy executive. Her BAH (psychology and sociology) and MPA (health policy) are from Queen's University. Johanna's bylines include Reader's Digest, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, USA Today, and Canadian Traveller. See her portfolio; follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.