A Very Rare Guest Visits Kailua Beach

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - October 12, 2011
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Jack fish often accompany these beautiful jellies. Alan Shepard photo

Alan Shepard is committed to making a difference in the lives of people in need. He spends most of his working days at the Waikiki Health Center as a substance abuse counselor.

But when he’s not giving his full attention to clients, Shepard can usually be found in the ocean pursuing his other two passions in life.

“I’m kind of an underwater photographer amateur, but love discovering things,” he chuckles. “I’ve always loved ocean life: years of personal study, minor in marine biology in undergrad (Indiana State) and working part time at the Waikiki Aquarium in the education department.”

So it’s no surprise that Shepard knew exactly what was coming at him during a recent trip to Kailua Beach. He and his family were enjoying a day at the popular Windward Oahu spot, when a 3-foot-long rhizostome jellyfish started swimming toward the shoreline near the boat ramp.

“To see this that close, this pelagic deep-water animal that close to shore was unheard of, and my heart was racing a mile a minute,” says Shepard, who was amazed to see the gentle creature swimming in waistdeep water. “Oh this is fantastic, better than seeing a shark or anything like that it was really cool!”

This was the second sighting of a massive jellyfish on Oahu’s Windward coastline in as many weeks. Darryl Manuwai and his family encountered an estimated 8-pound animal at Hukilau Beach in Laie.

But Shepard’s experience was extremely rare. He was able to capture nearly a dozen photos of what appeared to be very healthy jellyfish.

“Usually strong winds are accompanied by big waves and the animals get mashed to pieces in very bad conditions, but these pictures show it was in absolutely perfect condition,” says Andrew Rossiter, director of Waikiki Aquarium. “It’s a very, very special opportunity to see something unique.”

Shepard knew it was a special opportunity, as well.

This rhizostome jellyfish measures 3 feet long. Alan Shepard photo

“I saw it wasn’t damaged or sick and still moving quite well, so I followed it out past Flat Island to make sure no one tried to damage or grab it,” he says.

While escorting the jellyfish out to sea, Shepard was able to get close enough to see that he wasn’t the only one swimming by its side. A large striped-jack stayed within inches of the jellyfish the entire time.

“To see that fish that size stuck with it the whole time, it did not stray from it at all,” laughs Shepard.

Rossiter says such “escorts” are common with jellies.

“Some juvenile fishes actually live inside the bell of the jellyfish and they find safety there from other predators,” he says. “This jack was rather large.”

But what would bring two large open-ocean creatures so close to shore within such a short period of time? Some wondered if the March tsunami had anything to do with it, or if the ocean’s temperature played a role.

“What’s probably happened is there’s been an extended onshore wind blowing, and whenever that happens you get some really interesting animals coming up,” says Rossiter. “These are animals that usually live way way offshore and are very seldom seen around the island. But with strong winds, they were brought onshore.”

Despite its size, Rossiter says this type of jellyfish has a rather mild sting. Still he warns, “I wouldn’t recommend you touching them just in case you have an allergy to stings. Very, very unusual, so if you have an opportunity, see it and leave them in the sea. They’re much better off there.”

Shepard knows this opportunity may never repeat itself. But thanks to his trusty camera, he’ll always have memories of that oncein-a-lifetime day at Kailua Beach when Mother Nature brought a special guest to shore.

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