No bones about it: ‘Planet Jellies’ fascinates visitors at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach

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

“Planet Jellies” has landed as 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 on display.

Just walking into this new, permanent gallery where a big concession stand once stood, visitors might feel like they’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 of this species also were flown into orbit in 1991 for studies on weightlessness. Determine its gender by the color of its 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 long, and the latter attracts fish to hitch a ride inside its golden brown bell, or umbrella, for access to this passive hunter’s catches.

One display details the life cycle of a jellyfish, in five steps, including larvae that hatch and attach to something stable to grow into polyps that sprout tentacles for feeding, then generate more polyps that split into hundreds of ephryae that have the chance to each mature into medusas. Those adult stage jellies in turn, depending on the gender, later release eggs or sperm, and if the stars align per se, some of those eggs, with fertilization, 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 ouchy instance. Note some tips about treatment, such as not rinsing with fresh water, but vinegar or a baking soda paste, to lessen any sting’s blow.

Look, not touch, except in one tank

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 such 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, one of the senior aquarists on site for more than a decade, 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, where they “got it good.”

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

Bethany Marshall, director of marketing and public relations locally for Ripley Entertainment Inc., likes the spotted jellies best, because of “they move constantly” and look so happy on the go as this “mysterious, creative creature.”

White said with the opening this month of Planet Jellies, and the special “Slime” exhibit going through at least year’s end, Ripley’s Aquarium is showcasing animals that have never been in the building for all its 16 years.

One special aspect she already has observed in just two weeks is “seeing people’s fear of jellyfish” subside with the increased awareness and respect for, and up-close access to, these critters, and their “Oh, OK” reaction to knowing so many more facts that really aren’t so scary, even “if it might take a while.”

Among her fellow husbandry staff, White said learning how to encourage jellyfish copulation in captivity brings new skills to learn and master among the special handling and tender care the jellies require.

Light ’em up

The reflective images and lighting also enhance the jellyfish tanks for a more “infinity look,” 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.”

Marshall said the new wing has instantly “transformed” and widened the whole sphere of life that Ripley’s Aquarium shares, especially with the massive ecosystem that makes up the ocean, with so much still unknown, and how, for example, letting a plastic grocery bag wind up in the water produces chain-reaction ramifications.

Because jellies flow as the main food source for sea turtles, a reminder bears repeating: Recycle or dispose of all plastic bags properly, because as litter under the murky water, those bags look like jellyfish, and will prove fatal if ingested by loggerheads, leatherbacks and other turtles.

White said the jellies are fed a variety of foods each week for a rotation of nutrition, and guests are welcome to watch jellies eat at 3:30 p.m. daily. That goes with another new aquariumwide initiative this summer, with the public encouraged to watch specially timed, regular feedings, such as for sharks at 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; sea dragons and sea horses at 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays; and piranha and other Rio-Amazon native inhabitants at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

White said she handles meal time for the giant Pacific octopus at 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Caribbean spiny lobsters, in the opening part of the “Dangerous Reef” glass tunnel at 8 p.m. daily. Those crustaceans, she said, will come to the surface for her handoff of food, and during her visit with the octopus, “all of her arms will be spread out, and everybody can see her size.”

Don’t leave without sauntering through “Slime,” either, with green moray eels and many other marvels of marine life oozing with liquids in their everyday self-protection. Also, check out the tadpoles on the other, walled-off side in the two-part tank with the resident bullfrog. Some have grown from inch-long bodies with tails and breathing through gills into miniature frogs with lungs. Others continue their metamorphosis with the sprouting of arms and legs and shrinking of tails, as their mobility shifts as an amphibian.

White said in the oceans, jellyfish often move in mass as if they’re “forming one huge jellyfish,” as just fish will gather in schools, oysters in beds, or dolphins in pods.

If anyone sees a swarm of jellies, White has the word for that cluster. That’s a smack.

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.

If you go

What | “Planet Jellies”

Where | Ripley’s Aquarium, at Broadway at the Beach, on 29th Avenue North, between U.S. 17 Bypass and Robert M. Grissom Parkway in Myrtle Beach

Hours | Open 9 a.m. daily, and with summer hours, until:

▪ 10 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

▪ 11 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.

▪ 9 p.m. Sundays.

How much | Free with admission, which, plus tax, is $23.99 ages 12 and older (or save $2 advance online from this adult rate), $15.99 ages 6-11, and $6.99 ages 2-5, and free ages 1 and younger.

Local discount | Half off for residents Horry, Georgetown and Brunswick counties with ID.

Annual passes | Plus tax: $54.99 ages 12 and older, $32.99 ages 6-11, and $14.99 ages 2-5, with respective renewal rates of $44.99, $30.99 and $14.99.

Also | “Slime” special exhibit, tentatively through at least December, free with admission.

Feeding times | For which the public is welcome to watch:

▪ Sharks – 11:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

▪ Sea dragons/sea horses – 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays.

▪ Jellyfish – 3:30 p.m. daily.

▪ Piranha/Rio/Amazon – 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

▪ Giant Pacific Octopus – 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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

Dive shows | Daily for summer:

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

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

Also | Summer camps available; inquire for choices.

Information | 916-0888, 800-734-8888 or www.ripleysaquarium.com

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