Florida Aquarium's Moon Bay lets you touch a jellyfish

Moon jellies can sting you, but you can learn how to touch them safely at the new exhibit.

The Florida Aquarium's touch experience, Moon Bay, includes cold water Moon Jellies that visitors will be able to touch on their bellies. [Scott Keeler | Florida Beach Insider]
The Florida Aquarium's touch experience, Moon Bay, includes cold water Moon Jellies that visitors will be able to touch on their bellies. [Scott Keeler | Florida Beach Insider]

TAMPA — The Florida Aquarium has a couple new tanks of shimmering jellyfish lit up with bright blue back-lighting — and they are inviting you to stick your hand in them.

“Start with two fingers and just touch right on top of the bell,” said Roger Germann, CEO of the Florida Aquarium. “It’s super cool. It’s slippery, but it also has a lot more texture than you’d think.”

Germann showed off the newly redone lobby display to media on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. It’s called Moon Bay, a new “touch experience” at the aquarium that opens to the public on Saturday, which is also World Oceans Day.

He was right. I touched the jelly, and it did feel slippery. There was also a rubbery weight to the body, like poking a raw chicken cutlet.

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Roger Germann, CEO of the Florida Aquarium, talks about the new Moon Bay display on June 5, 2019 in Tampa. [Angelique Herring | Florida Beach Insider]

The 1,200-gallon habitat in the lobby has two separate rectangular tanks with a watery acrylic sphere in the center that glows with uplighting, making it easier to view the moon jellies, named for their moon-like circular bells.

There’s no need to worry about being stung, Germann assured nervous reporters carefully poking their fingers into the cold water. The aquarium picked the moon jellies because instead of long, trailing tentacles, they have a short, fine fringe that sweeps food, and they are too tiny to inflict any pain, even if they wanted to. Visitors will be instructed to only touch the bell located at the top of the jelly.

Scientists don’t call them jellyfish, by the way. With no brain, heart or bones, Germann said, “they are more closely related to coral” than fish.

Moon jellies are often found in the cooler waters of North America and Europe and are a great food source for endangered sea turtles.

The lighting in the exhibit makes them look like the color of glacial meltwater and sometimes changes to purple or red. In the wild, they are more translucent, which serves as camouflage, Germann said.

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And that’s where the lesson comes in.

“Turtles can’t tell the difference between a wet plastic bag and a jelly, so we wanted to show the role they play in nature but also have that education piece,” Germann said. “Be mindful when you are at the beach to pick up that plastic bag so it doesn’t get back in the ocean."

Admission is $27-$31 depending on the day, $23-26 for children, 2 and younger free. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 273-4000. flaquarium.org.

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times on June 5, 2019.

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More about moon jellies

• Jellies are 95 percent water, 5 percent solid matter

• A group of jellies are called a bloom, swarm or a smack.

• The coloration of moon jellies is dependent on their diet. Since the Florida Aquarium mainly feeds them brine shrimp, their jellies tend to be a shade of orange.

• The Florida Aquarium raises its population of moon jellies in-house and has done so for 10 years. They often supply animals to other aquariums and zoos across the United States.

• While all jellies sting, the moon jelly is a species with a very mild sting that is nearly undetectable to humans.

Source: The Florida Aquarium

Sharon Kennedy Wynne grew up in a large family in the Tampa Bay area, having spent many a summer on gulf coast beaches because it's a cheap way to entertain a lot of kids. A University of Florida graduate, she has been a journalist since 1988 and joined her hometown Tampa Bay Times in 1994. She is married and has two sons.