Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles – Water Ballet


There are three species of jellyfish found in the Chesapeake Bay, the most common being the Sea Nettle (or “Bay Nettle”).


Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles in Cambridge Creek


Up until 2017, Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles were believed to be the same species of nettles that occur offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.  A team of scientists discovered it is actually a distinct species and named it Chrysaora chesapeakei to distinguish it from its ocean cousin, Chrysaora quinquecirrha.


Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles in Cambridge Creek


We have had a sudden surge in the number of Sea Nettles this past week in Cambridge Creek.  Before that, I’d only see one occasionally.

With the passing of Hurricane Dorian a week ago that brought high flooding to our lower Bay and then the continuance of extreme high tides with the full moon, maybe the hundreds of nettles were washed in.


Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettle – Cambridge Creek


The milky white bell of the Bay Nettle grows to an average of 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter.  They have four long, lacy oral arms hanging from their center, as well as up to 24 dangling tentacles.


“Flower Power”


Those 24 tentacles have millions of microscopic stinging cells to sting, entangle, paralyze and capture their prey of copepods, minnows, worms, comb jellies, bay anchovy eggs, and other small creatures.


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“Black & White I”


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Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettle in Cambridge Creek


The tentacles are then used to move the prey into their mouth in the center of the bell’s underside.


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“Close-up I”


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“Close-up II”


Bay Nettles do not swim and cannot control their direction.  They float with the water currents and feed continuously.  The longer they survive the summer from predators, the larger they get.  Some of the Bay Nettles in my photos are as large as 8-10″ in diameter and with tentacles 4-5 feet long.  These were some healthy nettles!


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“Caught In A Current”


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“Close Encounter”


Sea Nettles do not have eyes and do not need light to survive.  They are nearly 90 percent water.


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Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettle in Cambridge Creek


Sea Nettles are geared for high reproduction.  An average sized Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettle sheds about 40,000 eggs into the water daily from May to August.  Bay research has been ongoing to try to find a way to slow their population that continues to soar each year.


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“Black & White II”


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Floating slowly and gracefully, Sea Nettles give a stunning water ballet performance that is quite mesmerizing and soothing.

I spent time just watching them, taking shots here and there, really thinking the photos would not turn out decent.  Most were taken this morning and it was cloudy.  For me, it was more about enjoying the experience, as I have never seen anything like this before.  Of course, I love it when I surprise myself at download!  😊



42 thoughts on “Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles – Water Ballet

  1. Donna, your photos of these beautiful creatures are stunning! I find them a skosh scary yet beautiful and graceful. I agree with your thoughts 0n Dorian.I hope they will float back to the sea where they belong. I am curious how you got these photos but won’t ever pry! 😎😌

    • Thank you very much, John! They are scary dangerous for us. You cannot swim around them, they will sting you too. I’ve never been stung but have seen the pain and burn they cause.

      The shots – I shot some from my balcony couple days ago. This morning when I saw the hundreds I ran down to the bulkhead and walked along it, watching them as they surfaced. Some were shot with my 70-200mm lens, some with my 24-85mm. Yes, I hoofed two cameras, lol. I’m hoping tomorrow we have sunshine so the water will be more blue than the green tint that the water throws when it’s cloudy.

  2. Amazing underwater captures of this dangerous creature Donna. We unwittingly would call them Jellyfish as they are in that family, but these are more nasty variety I take it which is peculiar to the Atlantic area?

    • Thank you, Ashley! Yes, they are nasty stingers, we cannot swim freely in areas they are seen. The Atlantic species grows much larger (the bell is 3 ft diameter with 15 ft tentacles), so I imagine they can sting a human even worse than our smaller bay nettles.

  3. Very nice shots! Did you use a polarizing filter or did you have an overcast day? I’m always curious how people get difficult shots like these.

    • Thank you, David! It was cloudy and 8:00 a.m. Got me moving a little quicker this morning when I saw them, lol. I really am surprised with these, I shot with both my 70-200mm lens and 24-85mm lens, no filters. The water is fairly clear (just greenish when cloudy). So many were close to the surface, it was unbelievable. There weren’t as many this afternoon/evening.

      • Hadn’t thought about that. I know at times RAW has allowed me to process as if I had used a polarizing filter when shooting koi in a lake at the botanical garden.

  4. Such joyful surprises on download! These are wonderful, though the stinging part doesn’t sound quite so good. But they sure are graceful and beautiful looking. Easy to see being mesmerized… so long as you don’t touch. 😀

    • Thank you, Gunta! From mid-way and down the Chesapeake Bay, they can be anywhere. People are cautious (or should be) and don’t swim in areas when these fellas are spotted. The sting is very painful, like a burn. A quick remedy is to pour vinegar on the burned area, then treat with cold compresses and anti-itch cream. I’ve never been stung by one, I don’t go in water I can’t see my feet! 😀

    • Thank you, Cindy, healthy-looking for sure! I read that our mid-way Bay point between the ocean and upper Bay has perfect water salinity where they find a tremendous amount of food source.

  5. Donna, these are absolutely exquisite!!! Congratulations on such beautiful compositions! As I read the comments and your responses, I wasn’t sure whether you took these from under water or whether they were all taken from above. The results are incredible!! Definitely award-winning!

    • Thank you, Susan, and welcome back!! I took them from my balcony and while walking along the bulkhead, where they were right alongside, at the top of the water. I cannot believe how great the shots turned out on a cloudy day, I planned on getting more today in the sunshine but they are all gone now except for one or two here and there.

      Can’t wait to see all your Artic photos!!!!!!

  6. Quite remarkable pictures, Donna. The jellyfish are vertical in the water and you had enough DOF to have the tentacles perfectly sharp, I believe the cloudy day helped make the contrast of the white bodies. If you shoot that on a sunny day the water gets blue because of sky reflection, then you might not be able to see the tentacles, only the bell (upper-part). You did a fantastic job, my friend. Kudos. 🙂

    • Thank you, HJ! You are right, I tried to take more photos today with the sunshine and the water was blue. I haven’t had time to process to see the difference. For some reason many of the nettles were going sideways as well (different ways so it wasn’t water current, the tide was still) so that helped with the full capture of the tentacles. The somewhat clear water was a bonus and I shot them in RAW as an added bonus! 🙂

    • Thank you, Reed! I am super-pleased with these. I took more today with sunshine and haven’t processed yet to see the difference since it was cloudy before. There weren’t very many today, so I guessed they got carried away, darn! I’m so glad I was home yesterday and saw this ‘event’. 🙂

  7. Whoa. The tails are so long on your sea nettles! I wonder if its not safe to swim in the water with these jelly fish swimming around. Because one time I was wading in the water, saw a sea nettle and jumped out of the water. LOL Great, informative post, Donna! 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

    • Thank you, Al! No, it is not safe to swim around this type of jellyfish, they will sting you and it’s a very painful burn. I, too, stay out of the water for many reasons……sharks, jellyfish, crabs (big one latched onto my toe as a kid!), and anything that swims by and I feel it touch me, YIKES! Even if I can see my toes, I’m not comfortable. Something is probably watching and sizing me up! 😅 😂

  8. Pingback: Chesapeake Bay Sea Nettles – Water Ballet II | Photos by Donna

  9. Pingback: Jellyfish Ballet | Photos by Donna

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