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A Day’s Work: Jellyfish Wrangler Provides For Aquariums Across Nation

Submitted by on May 1, 2013 – 3:34 pmNo Comment |
Jellyfish, Photo by Jonathan Van Dyke

Jellyfish, Photo by Jonathan Van Dyke

“I think they are beautiful,” Nancy Sowinski said. “They are peaceful. They absorb the light and they are really elegant — that whole radial nature. They are one of the few circular and symmetrical animals we have.”

Moon jellyfish are not just for gawking at within a local aquarium anymore. Sowinski, with her Sunset Marine Labs, has been providing private citizens the ability to own their own jellyfish aquariums. In the last year, her business expanded to public retail — just about anyone can now get a starter tank for about $850.

Last week, her efforts were featured on the Animal Planet show “Tanked.” During the episode, the East Coast headquarters for Spencer’s Gifts used Sunset Marine Labs to fill a giant lava lamp with large jellyfish.

The market is evolving and changing, but Sowinski said she has been here since the beginning — back more than 17 years ago when she was working for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro.

“Back then, no one was exhibiting jellyfish,” she said. “It was brand new.”

According to Sowinski, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was the first place to show jellyfish, and workers from there passed it on to her and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

“Literally, it was a broom closet that we cleared out (to start),” she said.

But the venture was successful and popular — colleagues urged Sowinski to use her newfound jellyfish-breeding talents.

“Naively, I took some polyps (essentially infant jellyfish) home to my kitchen, and word got out that I had jellyfish available,” she said of the 1996 startup. “I started selling them to zoos and aquariums.”

That operation moved to the garage, and eventually a space in South Pasadena. Now, Sowinski has been operating out of 2248 Obispo Ave., Signal Hill, for the past several years.

She can outfit people with a starter 10-gallon tank and has designed tanks as large as 1,000 gallons for various clients, including upscale restaurants and a Las Vegas hotel.

The key to keeping jellyfish healthy and alive in a tank environment comes from the Plankton Kreisel design, which simulates current movements, she said. Jellyfish require that natural flow and resistance to keep them elevated. The Plankton Kreisel tank was originally used in the 1960s by explorers in research ships.

The PH and chemistry of the water also is very important, as is the food — she grows and processes brine shrimp for them.

“They have to have the right tank with the right flow that keeps the jellyfish alive, with the right food,” she said. “The biggest trick with jellyfish is the water. They are 96% water (themselves).”

Generally, Sowinski packages the jellyfish at about 3 months old, then they live for another 8 months, or longer. They can be sized between 2 and 10 inches in diameter, depending on the tank system supporting them.

Sunset Marine Labs was the first commercial jellyfish husbandry lab in the world, she said. In the last year, normal retail ( has become possible.

She sells the Southern California Aurelia Aurita, the Northern California Aurelia Labiata and the Hawaiian Species No. 4.

“Now people are seeing the value in this and there are more people getting into it,” she said. “Their success or size? I don’t really know that.”

The key, for her, will always be selling to people who care correctly for the jellyfish — the job consumes her time and patience as she cultivates them from spec size to 7 inches.

“They (jellyfish) don’t know that it’s the weekend — they have to eat, so there’s not a lot of time off,” she said. “I would never sell to someone just because they have the money. They need to be able to maintain it.”

Source : Gazettes

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