“Hey, you want to see some jellyfish?”

It is like offering to point out to us a bad tattoo or a twelve-story condominium, such was the proliferation of jellyfish at Orange Beach on this particular day.

“We’re good, buddy,” we say.

“You sure? We got a bunch,” he says. He is the color of a peeled apple, this boy, but with the sort of dense, stippled freckles that join together and form a mock-suntan.

“Well, alright,” we say.

We follow the boy. He leads us to a plastic kiddy pool which has been stationed next to a chaise. There is a freckle-blotched woman sunning in the chaise. Presumably his mother. She says hello. We return the greeting.

“See?” says the boy. He points downward.


The kiddy pool, four feet in diameter, is filled to capacity with a terrifying menagerie of jellyfish. Some pump and pulse with regularity. Some weakly convulse. Others, the sure-enough dead ones, float and sway with the movement of the water – their previously dome-shaped bodies flat. Flush with the surface of the water.

“What do you call a group of jellyfish?” Alexa asks.

“Don’t know,” I say.

“A jam!” she says.

“Unless they’re protected by law, in which case it would be a preserve,” I say.

This is what nerdy women do on the beach. They engage in word play.


I produce a phone and ask if I might take a photo. The boy agrees. His mother smiles. She is sure he is a budding scientist, not a sociopath. We are not so sure.

The children join us. They gaze into the pool. Instantly convicted to join the cause, my daughter Carrie fetches our net, tromps into the ocean, scoops up a jellyfish, and dumps it into the watery mass grave. And I am fairly sure that she is a budding scientist. I hope she is.


The following morning, Alexa, the guys and I are out on the balcony. We are drinking coffee and admiring the ocean.

“Look,” Scott says. “A dolphin.”

“I saw it too,” Todd says. “Look past that blue umbrella.”

We watch the surface of the water until, again, it’s dorsal fin momentarily resurfaces.

“What eats jellyfish?” Alexa asks. She is having the same thought as me: I hope that dolphin will eat all of those miserable jellyfish so that we can swim in peace today.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’ll check.”

A quick and disappointing Google search reveals that the main predator of jellyfish are… larger jellyfish.

“I’m not sure that helps our plight,” Alexa says.

I think, then, of that corny starfish story keynote speakers always tell at conferences in an effort to inspire us – the one in which the dancing woman throws dying starfish back into the ocean in an effort to save their lives. It hits me then that I have witnessed it; the real-life version of the starfish story. I have seen it in action. That boy with the freckles, Carrie, and the jellyfish. It is the Starfish story in reverse; less inspiring, but morbidly fascinating.


It made a difference for that one.

19 Comments on “Jellyfishing”

  1. Let me get this straight: jellyfish eat smaller jellyfish, and presumably get bigger, right? And if they don’t get eaten by jellyfish bigger than them, they keep on getting bigger and bigger? I think you ought to be on the watch for a giant jellyfish on the prowl. I feel a film script coming on, a sort of Jaws thing. The title Sucks springs to mind.

  2. You always make me roar with delight at your wit. Yes, it did indeed matter to that one. This is A.G.’s angelversary, so thank you for that wild tale that made me smile today.

  3. This post is timely for me because since you may have heard that I’m learning to swim and it is now, as my kids constantly remind me “jellyfish season”, so I’m constantly on the lookout. But scientist or sociopath? That really is the question.

  4. I was in South Florida at the end of February and the beach was covered in Portuguese man-of-wars. I could have gone my whole life and never experienced that scene and been totally fine with it.

      • Probably. I didn’t get close enough to find out. Well, I did, actually, because I wanted pictures, but I was careful not to touch any and had a friend as a lookout to be sure none touched me.

  5. Great post. A few weeks ago my kids and I were on a nighttime walk on the beach when we found two big live flounders that had washed up on the sand. They were drying out and it really bothered me. They were scary to look at and their gills were working hard. We discussed what to do. I wanted to lift them up and take them back to the water, but we had nothing to use to get them into the ocean. I don’t know if flounder bite. Probably not, but in the end we decided to do nothing, to walk on and hope that the tide, which was coming in, would reach them and take them back to the ocean. It still bothers me, but my kids (all teenagers) reminded me that nature was providing food for the birds. Something to think about…

  6. Ginger, there are so many reasons I love this blog. Who else loves my word nerd ways like you do? I am #blessed (please read sarcastic but true hashtag) to have you as one of my best, most long-time friends on the planet. I feel confident that Carrie is leaning more to the scientist side than sociopath side of things, although only time will tell, I guess.

  7. Enjoyed this writing as always. True talent with witty writing. You always make me laugh.
    Carrie will be a scientist.

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