Sites and Critters

The aesthetic delight of Aurelia aurelia

A quick tribute to a common urban marine organism that I think is particularly beautiful: the Moon Jelly, Aurelia aurelia. Here’s a video I took recently of one in Seattle’s Elliott Bay:

Jellyfish have probably been a source of inspiration for artists and designers for as long as humans and jellies have coexisted (ie – all of human history; jellyfish have been around from some 500 million years or more). They’ve served as study subjects for all sorts of work, from Ernst Haeckel’s lithographic prints to Dale Chihuly’s organic glass forms. In Björk’s current exhibit at MOMA, she explains that the ancient, pulsing, fleshy creatures connote feelings of calmness and satiation that come with finding love (though it seems jellyfish imagery has had other uses in her work as well: link). Others seem captivated by the silent, toxic danger jellyfish pose to their prey, or simply by their beautiful, primal form and the aesthetic experience of observing them in their environment.

Beyond artistic expressions past, jellyfish might also provide inspiration for technological innovations of the future. Could knowledge of the way in which Aurelia propels itself help us develop more efficient forms of underwater propulsion or better medical technologies? John Dabiri at Cal Tech believes so. Or perhaps the peculiar qualities and molecular structure of jellyfish tissues could facilitate advances in material sciences, as noted by Steven Vogel in Comparative Biomechanics.

As coastal ecosystems become ever more urbanized and the planet undergoes rapid changes, we may need to look to nature for examples of physical designs that are tried and true. Few organisms have the track record of jellyfish, with 500 million years of adaptation and counting. What luck that they’re aesthetically endowed too.