Wednesday, June 24, 2015
The myth of Cassiopeia
A couple years ago, I learned about the jellyfish known as the cassiopeia or upside down jellyfish. The name cassiopeia strikes up a vision of Greek mythology and lo and behold, Cassiopeia is not only a mythological queen that had terrible things happen to her (typical), but is a constellation. Back to earth, the cassiopeia jellyfish is common here in our warm south Florida waters. It particularly likes Biscayne Bay with its thick seagrasses and mud.
They are strange creatures because they don't appear like an animal at first. It is stunning to see hundreds of them laying on the seagrass floor in the shallow waters of the bay. They blend so well that if you didn't know what to look for, you might think they are grass. So why are they named after Cassiopeia? Apparently, Poseidon tied the queen to a chair that spins around in the heavens and half the time, Cassiopeia is upside down as she spins around. It all sounds ridiculous but it's intriguing that someone decided to name the jellyfish after the upside down queen. Indeed, when the jellyfish lays on the ground, it is upside down. To give you a visual, here is an image of one.
The jellyfish can often times be seen swimming at the surface of the water. With a few encounters, I've learned that they prefer sunlight or warmth when floating up to the surface. From my canoe, I have tried to capture them as they appear right side up and look like an alien space ship. It is very beautiful to see them move around the water and make ripples, such as with this one. But with the glare from the water, it is difficult to capture well.
Ever since capturing the swimming cassiopeia, I have been wanting to take my 180mm macro lens with a polarizer filter attached to it out to the bay. The macro lens would allow me to get very close to the small jellyfish. And the polarizer filter would take the glare off the water. A couple mornings ago, I finally got that chance. I paddled a mile and half to an area where I knew the sea floor would be carpeted with the upside down jellyfish. How amazing to paddle over thousands of them; they completely covered the bottom! I wanted to stake out my boat in the shallow water and sit in one place while jellyfish surrounded me as they came up to the surface.
The area I staked out in was so shallow that the seagrasses stuck out of the water. This is where I found dozens of jellyfish at the surface of the water among the thick grasses. This was not exactly what I wanted as the grasses tend to look very messy. But with the macro lens, I could get inches away from a jellyfish and fill the frame. From about 7:30 am to about 10:30, I knelt in my canoe and faced downward toward the water with my camera and lens.
The jellyfish displayed very interesting shapes and colors, some more transluscent that others, some with bright white markings, some with blues and yellows. The translucence allowed light to pass through in beautiful ways, giving them an ethereal appearance. With the sun relatively high in the sky, the polarizer worked well. Moving into various positions, I adjusted the polarizer lens constantly. Without it, the bright translucence would have been missed.
I had so much fun photographing the jellyfish. The next best thing to an underwater camera set-up, the macro lens and polarizer filter did the job. Looking forward to another attempt at capturing the mysterious and striking cassiopeia jellyfish.