Saturday, February 12, 2011

Death Takes No Holidays

With all the severe and mostly miserable weather affecting much of the country over the past couple of weeks, it seems almost spiteful to bring up Florida weather conditions. True, here in the near tropical clime of central and southern Florida there is little to complain of weather-wise. Not to say that every day here is sunshine and shorts. On one day this week I walked an hour on the beach in T-shirt and shorts and the very next day shivered under my sweater, pullover and jacket along that same stretch of beach. Certainly not Chicago, but then neither is it Rio.

Friday was another of the cold days and one with not a lot of sunshine. Definitely felt like winter all day long. As far as walking on the beach goes, time and stubbornness have hardened me to some degree and short of a thundering downpour, some time in the day will find me plodding along the sand. So I bundled up this afternoon and struck out. Didn’t even have time to settle into a pace before coming upon one of those disturbing but inevitable sometime sights in nature’s coastal preserve. First thought was, “Why isn’t that bird scrambling to get out of my path?” Well, the unfortunate creature was beyond flight, and very near beyond any movement at all. It was a young male pelican. Standing a mere three feet away, I watched his final strength draining out on the sand, a once magnificent bird unaware of all outside the final struggle for life, unseeing of the tall human bulk looming over him. His head slowly drooped to the sand and then just as slowly struggled up again. With legs stretched behind him in an ungainly spill, I began to feel like a peeping Tom intruding on the bird’s closing battle. I moved on down the beach.

For the past week or more there’s been here on the central east coast what they call a bloom of jellyfish. This time it’s the cannonball jellyfish and the surf line is dotted with numbers of them washed ashore. From the first appearance of these odd-looking blobs I’ve been struck by how much they resemble the one-man fighter planes of the type flown by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. Odd thing is, these are edible “fighter planes” considered a delicacy in Japan. But hold on, it’s not likely to see anyone picking up these interesting jellyfish to munch on.

The cannonball jellyfish, sometimes called a cabbage head jellyfish, despite being a good swimmer sometimes washes up on beaches in large numbers. The shape is almost what you would expect a futuristic plane to look like. It has the stealth bomber type of graceful flaring wings and a circle of “thruster jets” at the back. Naturally, in the water the ‘wings’ become an umbrella shape with the ‘thruster’ becoming short stingers or nematocysts. Some books will describe the cannonball as bluish or yellowish with a brown border. Those here on Florida’s east coast are clear and uncolored apart from a reddish border and reddish stingers. The reference books describe them as sometimes reaching seven inches in diameter. Many of the New Smyrna Beach cabbage heads are eight to ten inches in diameter. The good news is, a cannonball jellyfish has only a mild sting and brushing against one in the water won’t usually result in a sting. As for eating the jellyfish, bear in mind that it must be harvested alive and healthy and prepared properly. Dried is the most common method.

Two photos show what looks likes like healthy (at one time) specimens.

Forty minutes after first seeing the unfortunate pelican, I passed him again on the way back. Struggles over, he was at peace finally in some other plane.


  1. Very interesting and could be a chapter in a book. Especially touching is the pelican in the last throes of life. Reminds me of Hazel in WATERSHIP DOWN at the end, slipping the bonds in mid-jump, old body replaced with one younger. Hope that's the way it is for us all.

  2. Sad but interesting post today. I feel so sorry for the poor pelican, but as you say....death takes no holiday. Don't think I would enjoy eating a dried jelly fish either.

  3. Good but sad post. Photos worked very nicely. I didn't realize that people ate those jellyfish. Dried, fried, or dipped in chocolate - no thank you!

  4. Beautiful post... read Thomas Lynch's essays, they are, as your writing, a wonderful examination of the topic.


About Me

My photo
Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America