Oregon Coast Jellyfish – Identification Guide with Pics

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Last week, my entire extended family drove over to Astoria to visit one of the many beautiful beaches. My nieces were there and asked their favorite uncle (that’s me!) to take a walk with them down by the water.

I agreed and we started walking down the beach when suddenly my older niece started running ahead because she saw something. Not wanting her to get too close to the water, I picked up the younger one and ran after her sister.

Seconds later, both of my nieces are pointing at something in the water and asking if I can identify it. I tell them both to stand back and I’ll go check it out. I told them it was a jellyfish, hoping they wouldn’t ask for more information.

Unfortunately for me, they immediately asked me what type it was. I could see it was clear and that was about it.

Luckily, my wife walked up behind us at that exact moment and was able to identify it, saving me from the embarrassment of having to tell my nieces I didn’t know something (they still think I’m a genius…)

In order to stop that form happening again I decided to learn what I could about the types of jellyfish in Oregon and how to easily identify them.

While I won’t claim to be an expert, I can now identify Oregon’s Jellyfish (at least the common ones) as well as those found further north in the Puget Sound.

So buckle up and soon you’ll be up to speed too!

Types of Oregon Coast Jellyfish

Velella Velella

Velella velella, commonly known as “by-the-wind sailor” or “purple sailor,” is a unique jellyfish that can often be found washed up on the Oregon Coast, typically during spring and occasionally in winter. These creatures exhibit a fascinating blue to purple color and are carried by the wind due to their distinctive, sail-like structures.

Aurelia Aurita

Aurelia aurita, also known as the moon jellyfish or moon jelly, is one of the most common jellyfish species found on the Oregon Coast. These translucent creatures have a delicate appearance and can be easily identified by their four distinct purple reproductive organs. Moon jellies are often spotted near the shoreline and are a frequent sight in aquariums.

Pacific Sea Nettle

The Pacific sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) can also be found in the waters off the Oregon coast. This jellyfish is known for its striking appearance, featuring a reddish-brown bell with long, trailing tentacles. While the Pacific sea nettle’s sting is not fatal to humans, it can cause a painful reaction. Swimmers, fishermen, and divers should exercise caution when encountering these jellyfish in the wild.

Comb Jelly (Not actually a jellyfish…)

Comb jellies, belonging to the phylum Ctenophora, are another type of gelatinous creature found in the Pacific Northwest. Although often mistaken for jellyfish, comb jellies are unique individuals in their branch of the animal kingdom. They are called comb jellies due to their eight rows of comb-like structures, called ctenes, that propel them through the water. These captivating animals often display stunning, iridescent colors as they move. Since comb jellies do not have stinging cells like true jellyfish, they are harmless to humans.I hope this information provides a good overview of the various types of jellyfish one can encounter along the beautiful Oregon Coast. Remember to always respect and protect these interesting marine species while exploring the coastlines.

How To Identify A Jellyfish

Even though I don’t know much about jellies (or other sea creatures for that matter) I frequently enjoy observing jellyfish along the Oregon coast.

After talking to several regular beachgoers who seemed much more knowledgeable than I (including a marine biologist), here are the tips I’ve gleaned on how to identify any jellyfish you come across:

  • Size and shape: Comparing the size and shape of jellyfish helps in distinguishing between different species. For example, Velella velella is blue to purple, with a flat, oval-shaped body, while Aurelia aurita is translucent with a circular shape.
  • Color and pattern: Identifying distinctive colors and patterns on jellyfish can provide insight into the species. Moon jellyfish, for instance, have translucent bodies with purple reproductive organs.
  • Tentacles: Noting the number, length, and arrangement of tentacles is another significant way to determine the jellyfish species.

A Few Safety Tips

When coming across jellyfish on the beach or in the water, it’s important to keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • Avoid touching: Although some species may not have a powerful sting, it’s best to avoid touching jellyfish with your bare hands to prevent any potential injuries or allergic reactions.
  • Maintain a safe distance: Watch jellyfish from a respectful distance, both on the beach and in the water, to ensure your safety and the well-being of these marine creatures.
  • Beware of dead jellyfish: In some cases, a jellyfish can still sting even after it has died. Be cautious while walking on the beach to avoid stepping on dead jellyfish.

Where To See Jellyfish In Oregon

If you are headed to the coast with the express purpose of finding jellies, a few places are better than others. While there are jellyfish spread out along almost the entire Oregon coast you’ll want to stick to the types of waters that jellyfish tend to congregate in.

Some of the best places I found are:


During my visit to Astoria, I discovered that the Oregon coast is home to a variety of jellyfish species. One notable type is the clear jellyfish, Velella, which can be easily distinguished by its triangular and transparent sail. The sail is set diagonally to the long axis of the jellyfish and helps them move with the wind.

Cannon Beach and Seaside

At Cannon Beach and Seaside, I came across several species of jellyfish, whether it was during a casual walk on the beach or while exploring tide pools. These coastal towns are known for their picturesque landscapes, including the famous Haystack Rock, which offers a unique habitat for marine creatures like jellyfish to thrive.

Newport and Pacific City

During a visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, I had the chance to observe and learn about fascinating jellyfish species. In Pacific City, the diverse intertidal zones offer the perfect environment for various jellyfish types, including the striking Moon Jellyfish, which is recognizable by its saucer shape and four distinct gonads.

Oceanside, Lincoln City, and Manzanita

Exploring the beaches of Oceanside, Lincoln City, and Manzanita allowed me to spot different types of jellyfish, often washed ashore by tidal movements. Along these scenic coastal towns, one can observe jellyfish populations up close, whether it is during a seaside hike or while participating in coastal cleanup activities.

Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, and Tillamook

Wandering through the sandy beaches and rocky shorelines of Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, and Tillamook, I discovered a range of jellyfish species, some of which I had never seen before. The northern stretch of the Oregon coast is known to be an excellent spot for observing marine life, including numerous types of jellyfish.

Depoe Bay, Waldport, and Florence

At Depoe Bay, Waldport, and Florence, I encountered more species of jellyfish amidst the dramatic coastal scenery. Particularly in Waldport, the Alsea Bay offers the perfect habitat for several types of jellyfish, including the mesmerizing Comb Jellies, which are characterized by their luminescent rows of hair-like cilia.


Finally, my journey along the Oregon coast led me to Nehalem, where I witnessed a diverse range of jellyfish species inhabiting the coastal waters. With its serene beaches and picturesque bay, Nehalem offers a unique and intimate encounter with some of the most fascinating creatures of the marine world.

The Impact Of Jellyfish On Oregon’s Ecosystem

As I have learned during my research, jellyfish play a significant role in the ecosystem along the Oregon coast. In their natural environment, they contribute to the overall diversity and balance of marine life in the region. They occupy an important position in the food chain, serving as prey for predators like sea turtles, sunfish, and other larger sea creatures. At the same time, they act as predators themselves, consuming smaller organisms like zooplankton, fish eggs, and larvae.

There are instances when jellyfish populations can experience rapid growth, leading to blooms. During these events, their impact on the local ecosystem becomes more pronounced. For example, they may outcompete or disrupt the feeding habits of other species that also rely on zooplankton. Blooms may also lead to an increased mortality rate for fish eggs and larvae, impacting the recruitment success of various fish populations.

While jellyfish contribute to maintaining a sense of balance in the ecosystem, their presence can sometimes be considered detrimental. For instance, research has suggested that high jellyfish biomass might divert zooplankton production away from pelagic fishes, leading to a more complex predator-prey relationship.

In the context of human activity, jellyfish can occasionally interfere with commercial fisheries off the Oregon coast. Fishers may have to relocate during blooms, or their gear might become damaged as a result of increased jellyfish populations. The economic implications of these disruptions can be significant, with potential effects on livelihoods and more.

From my findings, it is evident that jellyfish hold an important place in the Oregon coast’s ecosystem, where their impact is both beneficial and sometimes challenging. Their role in maintaining the delicate balance of nature is one that should not be overlooked, and future research efforts should continue to examine how these fascinating sea creatures contribute to the health of our oceans.

Questions My Niece Asked About Jellyfish…

What is That Clear Jellyfish on the Oregon Coast?

The clear jellyfish most commonly found on the beaches here is Aurelia aurita, commonly called the moon jellyfish or moon jelly. It is almost entirely translucent, except for its reproductive organs, which are purple.

Although there are more than a dozen types of jellyfish in the Pacific Northwest moon jellies are by far the most common. They are most often found in tropical waters, but have proven to be highly adaptable and can survive in water between 21 degrees and 88 degrees Fahrenheit.

As for me, I’ll probably use both at different times just to mix it up. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, right? I’ll still call it “horseradish” even if it isn’t made out of horses or radishes.

Can You Keep A Jellyfish As A Pet?

Some types of jellyfish do much better than others in captivity. While some places (such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium) have the resources to keep jellyfish alive and “happy” the average person does not.

Let’s take moon jellies as an example of keeping them as a pet.

Like most species of jellyfish, moon jellies do have a sting, but it is not considered dangerous for humans. You’ll have a rash for a few hours and it won’t feel great but it isn’t life-threatening.

It is legal to keep moon jellies and most other types of jellyfish as pets. I’d probably get my nieces a goldfish instead, but if you’d like to own a jellyfish, go right ahead!

Moon jellies are the most common type to own as pets, probably because they aren’t hazardous to humans. You’ll need a large tank filled with saltwater and you’ll want to make sure their food isn’t too acidic, but they’re relatively low maintenance.

Under proper conditions, a pet moon jelly can live about a year to 15 months. I’d probably recommend getting one from a reputable store that sells them instead of taking one off the beach, but that’s just my opinion.

Can You Eat Jellyfish?

On the opposite end of the spectrum from owning one as a pet (although I suppose if your pet moon jelly passed away and you could honor its memory by eating it), some people will want to know if they can eat jellyfish.

Let’s use the same example as last time (moon jellies) as every species tends to have a different answer.

For moon jellyfish, the answer is yes. Not all species of jellyfish can be eaten, as some of them are toxic to humans, but moon jellyfish are the most common type that is edible.

It’s not very common in the Pacific Northwest, but in China and Japan, it is considered a delicacy. Their bodies are 95% water, so they aren’t particularly nutritious but they are low in calories.

I’ve never had one myself but I’m told they have a salty taste, which would make sense as they live in saltwater.

If you do decide to eat some jellyfish, you’ll want to make sure you clean it thoroughly beforehand. Jellyfish “breathe” by absorbing oxygen from water, which means bacteria getting in is also common.

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, the exploration of jellyfish along the Oregon coast offered not just a delightful family experience but also an opportunity to delve into the fascinating world of these enigmatic creatures.

This adventure reiterates the importance of curiosity and continuous learning, even in areas that may initially seem beyond our reach or interest.

Whether for beachgoers, marine enthusiasts, or anyone with a curiosity about the natural world, understanding jellyfish and respecting their space in the ocean serves as a reminder of our own place in the complex web of life. The discovery of the jellyfish world along the Oregon coast has taught me that there’s beauty in the unknown and that a simple question from a child can lead to a rich and rewarding exploration.

It’s a lesson about embracing the unexpected and recognizing the wonder and interconnectedness of our world, one jellyfish at a time. See you out there!