If you haven’t noticed, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa offers visitors a chance to touch – yes, actually touch – a species of sea life that is traditionally considered hands off.
They’re Moon Bay Jellies, almost translucent little beings that vary in size from the size of your hand to a soccer ball. They’re round at the top, the bell, and have long tentacles that string out from the bottom like thin filament. It’s the bell you touch.
The tentacles that hang underneath are the part that does the stinging, if stinging is to be done, but the two interactive touch tanks at the Aquarium have guides to keep your hands in the right place.
Besides, these Moon Bay Jellies, according to Debbi Stone, the Aquarium’s vice president of education, are the wimps of the jelly stinging world; their sting is almost undetectable to humans. This is very different from the jellies that float about in Florida waters, she adds.
In fact, The Florida Aquarium is a hotbed of Moon Bay Jellies. The Aquarium breeds about 8,000 a year, sharing with aquariums and zoos around the country. About 100 are in this exhibit, which opened June 7 and will remain on permanent display.
As invertebrates, Moon Bay Jellies are 95 percent water, 5 percent solid matter. This means they aren’t really fish, so the Aquarium folks are encourage visitors to call them just “jellies.”
And because of their diet, the Aquarium jellies have a orangish tinge. Very Florida.
So what is it like to touch a Moon Bay Jelly? “It’s one of those things, until you do it, it’s very hard to describe the sensation,” Stone says.
“I thought it would feel like I was touching a piece of plastic in water,” Stone says. “Definitely, (it’s a) smooth, rubbery feeling. Definitely a lot more structure than you expect….”
Visitors are equally cautious; at least the adults are, according to Stone. “Overall, kids are more fearless than adults. Adults are more skeptical,” Stone says. “Adults are the ones hanging back. (They) don’t think we’re serious (that) they can touch them.”
For more information about The Florida Aquarium’s hours and admission prices, call (813) 273-4000 or go www.flaquarium.org
Content by Fred W. Wright Jr. Photo courtesy of The Florida Marine Aquarium
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