Trippin’ on Jellies
Monterey Bay Aquarium expands on the jelly obsession with its spectacular new exhibit.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Translucent, alien-like Aurelia labiata swarm in the water. Staring at the palm-sized blobs – some soft pink, others cloudy white – pulsing through the abyss is a psychedelic experience.
This is one of six new galleries in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s latest special exhibit, The Jellies Experience, which opens March 31 and runs until September 2014. The trippy effects in the “Jellies Explosion!” gallery come from fancy lighting and mirrors, which give visitors the sensation of swimming right through a swarm of moon jellies.
The angle plays well for The Jellies Experience, which includes ’60s space-pop motifs and fonts ripped from The Jimi Hendrix Experience album cover.
“The psychedelic theme is a new approach for us, and one that really fits the subject matter,” says exhibit designer Koen Liem.
The Aquarium’s original jellies arrived as a special exhibit in 1992, then settled in as a permanent exhibition in 1996. MBA experts set the global standard for jelly husbandry as the world’s only aquarium to exhibit the extremely fragile (and local) comb jelly.
The success stems from three decades of study. Since the 1980s, aquarists have worked alongside Japanese colleagues to crack the code for culturing jellies. Each species needs different temperature, food and lighting; the Aquarium figured out the recipe for cultivating and exhibiting a lot of them.
“THE PSYCHEDELIC THEME IS A NEW APPROACH FOR US, AND ONE THAT FITS THE SUBJECT MATTER.”
“We pretty much triggered the jellyfish boom in North America,” says Aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson.
“The Jellies Experience” is the Aquarium’s third special exhibit of jellies. This time, the team focused on showing the million-year history of the mysterious and beautiful creatures in a blend of live exhibits and increasingly prominent interactive units.
At the “Light Show” gallery, users can wave their hands in front of renderings of dunce cap, red crown or comb jellies, where a system of infrared sensors cause the digital medusae to produce luminescence similar to what deep-sea jellies would produce in the wild. A walk-through sculpture of a comb jelly, complete with a prism-like rainbow of lights, anchors the room. On the opposite wall, tanks of bioluminescent corals and fluorescent-green Japanese jellies the size of fingernails.
There’s so much to read and look at and touch and listen to, it’s easy to forget you’re on land. Staring into the jelly-filled aquaria feels as much like peering into outer space as into the ocean.
But this strange world is interactive and immediate, not static and distant. In the gallery “Jelly Fantastic,” visitors run their fingers over iPad-like touch screens to draw jellies. The completed drawings are launched into the virtual sea displayed on the wall, where they float with the creations of other users. Visitors can also have their creations emailed, and post them to their Facebook walls.
Live displays of five jelly species fill out the room, including a huge tank of multicolored blubber jellies – bulbous, mushroomy creatures, lacking tentacles but with lacy arms. They’re pretty, and pretty tasty: The blubber jelly is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia.
In another interactive gallery, “Ocean Dance,” visitors can learn about jelly locomotion. An interactive display allowing visitors to manipulate the drift of on-screen jellies by engaging large, button-like controllers.
The “Delicate Danger” gallery focuses on how jellies sting and eat their prey. A video at the entrance shows a fish trapped in a web of tentacles. A half-dozen model jellies loom above, their tentacles fused from fiber optic cables, emanating light at levels corresponding to the volume of the noise in the room. Around the corner, eye-popping concept art from Santa Cruz artist Jimbo Phillips depicts deadly jellies in five comic-style panels that would look just as cool on skateboard decks as they do on the wall. “It’s a gritty, bold style – kind of cartoony,” spokeswoman Karen Jeffries says, “like R. Crumb’s Keep on Truckin’ motif.”
The rarely-exhibited spotted jelly – with domino-like spots on its hood and cauliflower-like tentacles – is the star of the “Radiant Nature” gallery, which showcases the jellies’ symmetry.
At the end of the exhibition, a projected video of golden jellies accompanies a quote from a guy who would have certainly appreciated the groovy jelly – Jimi Hendrix: “You have to give people something to dream on.”