Don’t mess with the world’s largest jellyfish
Floating like an exotic fruit in the icy waters of northern Russia’s White Sea, this lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) was photographed by Alexander Semenov, head of the dive team at the White Sea Biological Station, in what was only his second photo opportunity with the species in 10 years of diving. It was an unforgettable experience, he says, and “this time I was with a camera”.
The lion’s mane is the world’s largest jellyfish and the White Sea’s largest invertebrate. The bell of White Sea jellies can grow to 70 centimetres across and its translucent tentacles can be 15 metres long. “Even if you try to dodge, it still touches you,” says Semenov.
The tentacles can give a painful sting, but are not known to be lethal. Despite wearing a full-length wetsuit and mask, Semenov was stung across the face. “It paralysed my lips,” he says. “They were as big as Angelina Jolie’s but not so beautiful. I couldn’t talk for an hour, and it hurt for days. Now I try to be more careful.”
Adult lion’s mane jellyfish eat everything from fish fry and krill to other jellyfish, such as the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita). “They are fantastically voracious predators, but this is what allows them to grow so large,” he says. He speaks of “floating stomachs” filled with five or six moon jellies at a time - some still alive and struggling.
The White Sea Biological Station is a remote outpost of Lomonosov Moscow State University. During the polar summer, its community of international researchers and visiting students enjoy a northern paradise, with midnight beach parties under a sun that never sets. In winter, those who remain cannot leave the station without skis because the snow reaches chest height. “And there’s the silence,” says Semenov. The only sound is the ice popping as the tide rises and falls.