Ocean Watch

By Susan Scott

Monday, October 25, 1999

Jellyfish jewelry
leads to journey

A few months ago, a friend living in San Francisco sent me a pair of exquisite jellyfish earrings.

The gift was particularly special because this friend and I don't routinely exchange gifts. She had seen these works of art, however, and, knowing how much I like jellyfish, bought them for me.

From the day I opened the box, I wore those earrings, each day admiring the dangling silver tentacles and the lavender enamel work on the bell. People commented. I felt fancy.

A month later, I took a trip to Bali, an Indonesian island noted for both its exceptional marine life and skilled artisans. What a perfect place for jellyfish earrings, I thought.

Apparently, someone else thought so, too. On my second day there, the earrings went missing from my hotel room.

The staff was surprisingly nonchalant about the incident, saying that people in Bali a) don't steal things, and b) would never wear such earrings anyway. Surely, they told me, I simply misplaced them.

I searched for a week. Even after I got home, I was still rummaging through pockets and purses, hoping I had tucked the earrings someplace weird for safekeeping. No such luck.

I called my San Francisco friend and told the tale. "I can't live without them. Can you get me another pair?"

"This could be a problem," she said. "I got them at the Brookfield Zoo when I was visiting my parents in Chicago."

MY treasured jellyfish were fellow Midwesterners? This was wonderful news. I was going there soon to visit my own family and could look for the earrings myself.

And so last week, after spending the night in the Chicago suburbs with relatives, I asked if we could go to the Brookfield Zoo.

My cousin stared at me.

"I know it's cold and raining. But ..." I told the story, and soon four of us were dashing through puddles in near-freezing drizzle looking for the gift shop. We found it. No jellyfish earrings.

"Try the south-end shop," the clerk told me, "near the marine exhibits."

More splashing ... more shivering ... then a miracle occurred: I opened a door, and there in front of us, in a lovely warm room, were thousands of gorgeous, living jellyfish. And not just any jellyfish: This enormous tank was full of my Ala Wai Boat Harbor favorites, moon jellies.

As I watched these lovely creatures, it occurred to me that moon jellies are perfect zoo animals. These animals, about the size of dessert plates, don't hide behind rocks or inside burrows, and you don't have to stand around waiting for them to do something. They're always right up front performing their graceful, pulsating dance.

Also, their tentacles don't pack enough of a punch to sting human skin, so they don't "bite" their keepers.

And apparently, they reproduce well in captivity. A nearby nursery tank was full of toddler moon jellies, darting around with youthful energy.

After admiring the exhibits, we headed for the shop. Anxiously, my aunt, cousins and I walked through the aisles and scanned the displays.

And there in the back was the prize: a pair of jellyfish earrings just like the ones I lost.

"Would you mind helping us with our survey?" the clerk asked as I fished for my wallet.

She handed me a form. "How far did you travel to visit our zoo?" one question asked. Then, "What particular animal did you enjoy most?" My cousins snorted with laughter as I gleefully answered the questions.

Whoever thought a couple of jellyfish could be so much fun? Thanks, Nina, for a great gift.

Marine science writer Susan Scott's Ocean Watch column
appears Mondays in the Star-Bulletin. Contact her at

E-mail to City Desk

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