Not all gelatinous, transparent animals floating in the ocean are jellies. Some of the most fascinating of these animals are actually tunicates called Salps. This means they are Chordates and are more closely related to me than to jellies! They float in the open ocean –some near the surface and others many feet down. Salps are several centimeters long, often colonial and can form long strings of individuals or tightly packed bundles. They are numerous in some areas, especially during plankton blooms.
Last week one of the aquarists from the Birch Aquarium went diving in the open ocean with the dive master from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The divers found two species of Salps several feet below the surface. They brought a few back to put on exhibit at the aquarium. It is rare to see these animals in aquariums. They only live a short time and are not often displayed.
Photographing transparent animals is difficult at the best of times and using a mobile phone camera in low light even harder. However I could not resist taking a few photographs this weekend. I hope these snapshots give you some idea of the strangeness and beauty of these gelatinous sacks that filter feed on plankton. The undigested remains of plankton form tightly packed pellets that drop to bottom of the ocean. This means that Salps play an important role in carbon cycling.