Dance Of the Sea Jellies
Drifting silently through a world of cool, milky green water, you feel something soft and gentle brush up against you, tickling your skin. Looking through your mask and snorkel you notice it is a jellyfish. The sunlight draws you toward the center of the lake where more and more of these amazing creatures appear. Eventually they surround and engulf you, pulsing gently against your body; they take you on an otherworldly adventure, into a true biological paradise.
You probably thought it was impossible to swim surrounded by sixteen million jellyfish, but at this lake, called Jellyfish Lake, its not. Jellyfish Lake was formed over 35 million years ago, half way around the world in the limestone rock islands of the tiny country of Palau. Palau is an island nation located just east of the Philippines.
(All photos in this lens, including my profile photo, are my personal photos from my trip to Palau, and thats me swimming with the sea jellies!)
Jellyfish Lake, or Ongeim'l Tketau as the natives call it, rises and falls with the tides of the ocean, yet it has no surface connection to the sea. Tiny invisible holes which speckle the rocks that surround the lake let water from the sea seep into the lake. Millions of years ago, these tides carried not only sea water into the lake, but microscopic organisms, including the larvae of the jellyfish.
Larvae are the hatched fertilized eggs of the adult jellyfish. After floating and drifting for a few days, the larvae attach themselves to the rocks along the sides of the lake. The larvae then change into polyps that look like tiny sea anemones. Finally, when conditions are just right, the polyps change into adult jellyfish, or medusae.
The jellyfish at Jellyfish Lake can't sting like other jellyfish might because their stinging cells, called nematocysts, are too small. Jellyfish use these nematocysts on their prey - tiny drifting animals called zooplankton. Jellyfish in the open sea eat a diet rich in zooplankton, but not the jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake. Here they get only about one quarter of their diet from zooplankton. Instead, they harbor an interesting group of algae living in their tissues. This algae is where they get the rest of their food from. They don't eat the algae though. The algae collects sunlight, like plants do, creating energy and food from the sun in the process of photosynthesis. The jellyfish take this energy, and use this for their food too.
That's why the jellyfish can be found where the sun is; they need to make sure that their algae get enough sunlight to make the food they need. This type of relationship, between two organisms that live together and help each other out is called symbiosis.
Migration Of The Sea Jellies
Even though jellyfish lack a heart, a brain, bones and even eyes, they can still smell, taste, and detect light with special nerve cell sensors. As the sun rises across Jellyfish Lake, the jellyfish pulsate eastward following the light. When they reach the shade cast over the lake by mangrove trees lining the shore, they reverse course.
At nightfall, the jellies switch to a vertical migration, bobbing up and down, up and down all night long. The jellyfish are careful not to go too far down though because doing so would be deadly. The bottom sixty feet of the lake contains no oxygen and consists of toxic hydrogen sulfide. Bobbing right to the edge of the toxic waters each night the algae living in the jellyfish get a special midnight snack on bacteria that live there.
Out in the open sea, jellyfish have to worry about predators such as turtles and barracuda but here in Jellyfish Lake they are protected by the safety of the rock walls that surround the lake. Their only enemy here is a type of sea anemones that lines the rock walls along the sides of the lake. Any jellyfish unfortunate enough to swim too close will be gobbled up instantly and all jellyfish larvae are at risk of being eaten too.
Jellyfish Lake is visited by thousands of visitors each year, but swimming with the jellies is not for the squeamish. Those who are daring enough to experience this unusual phenomenon are left with an experience not to be forgotten.
Learn More! - A few recommended books/DVDs on Palau and the sea jellies
We used this book on our trip to Palau and found it helpful and informative.
Palau has so much to offer the wildlife enthusiast like myself. Apart from the sea jellies in Jellyfish lake, the bird and bats are worth a look.
The DVD is silent footage of the sea jellies, a wallpaper for your computer or television. Watching the effortless floating and pulsing of the sea jellies definetly reduces stress to.
We bought this when we were in Palau, a great way to remember the adventure or to inspire you to take the adventure in the first place.
The Island Nation Of Palau - Feel like traveling half way around the world? Explore Palau
The Republic of Palau lies roughly 500 miles southeast of the Philippines and consists of eight principal islands and more than 250 smaller ones. Be prepared for multiple long flights and a crossing of the international dateline to get there if you are traveling from the United States. The eight principal islands of palau are the only islands that are inhabited and vary geologically from the high mountainous largest island called Babelthuap, to the low, coral islands usually fringed by large barrier reefs.
Palau offers one of the world's most spectacular diving and snorkelling destinations with coral reefs, blue holes, WW II wartime wrecks, hidden caves and tunnels, more than 60 vertical drop-offs (called walls), and an amazing array of coral, fish, and rare sea creatures.
In addition to Jellyfish lake, other unique lake ecosystems exist. One, called Spooky lake, contains only two species of animals, copepods and algae. Since there are no predators to feed on the copepods in this ecosystem, this lake remains fairly peaceful. Nearby Hotwater lake has been described as a solar lake because of the heat which accumulates about 50 feet below the surface, causing the temperature there to reach an unbelievable 100Â°F! There are also other exotic natural inhabitants such as giant clams that weigh a quarter of a ton, unique tropical birds and green sea turtles.
Palau also beckons you with some of the world's whitest white sands beaches, lush forests, waterfalls and caves that have not been ravaged by people.
In addition to its rich natural wonders, Palau also has a rich and interesting history. During World War I, the Empire of Japan declared war on the German Empire and invaded Palau, one of the German overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean. Following Germany's defeat, the League of Nations formally awarded Palau to Japan.
Japan then incorporated the islands as an integral part of its empire, establishing a government with Koror as the capital. Japan then began promoting Japanese immigration and implimented and economic development plan.
During World War II, Palau became the scene of fighting again as the United States fought to capture and control an airstrip on the small coral island of Peleliu. In September 1944 an Allied victory resulted but not without the loss of many on both sides. There are still roughly 100 American service members listed as Missing In Action (MIA) in Palau since WWII. A small group of American volunteers called The BentProp Project have searched the waters and jungles of Palau to attempt to gather information that can lead to the identification and recovery of remains of these American MIAs.
After WWII, the United Nations played a role in deciding the U.S. would administer Palau as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1979 however, Palauans voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia based on language and cultural differences. After a long and violent period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents, Palau voted to freely associate with the United States in 1994 while opting to retain independence.
Want more Info? - Check these links out
- Palau Pacific Resort
This is the nicest place to stay in Palau. Rooms are nice, the beach is beautiful with pleasant snorkeling and the gourmet buffet breakfast is fantastic each morning. In addition, they book your dive trips and trips to Jellyfish Lake right at the fro
- The Beauty of Palau
Amazing photos from National geographic of therock islandsand unique flora and fauna found in Palau