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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#616: Venus' Girdle

A few weeks ago Joe Sampson stopped me to ask about something he observed while snorkeling in Lover's Cove. Based on his description, I could think of two quite unrelated critters it might have been. I didn't want to offer my opinion until I saw one myself. Not long after, I was ending a dive in the park and came across one of the two options and felt I could now give Joe my edumacated opinion.

The critter was long and fairly slender with a nearly transparent body. One could describe it as a ribbon-like "jelly." There were no bones inside, eliminating the possibility it was a similar looking fish. So, having narrowed down the options, I could state with some authority that it was none other than Venus' girdle!

No, I'm not referring to the Venus that graces the ceiling of our incredible Art Deco movie theater just below the proscenium arch, nor is it one lost by tennis star Venus Williams' while visiting the island on a yacht. This Venus' girdle is an invertebrate member of the phylum Ctenophora or comb jellies. We enlightened scientists refer to it as Cestum veneris. The poor critter is the only member of the scientific genus Cestum, so it is somewhat like the lonely Maytag repair man.

Comb jellies are not jellyfish and do not possess stinging cells. The group is characterized by a series of comb-like structures along their body known as ctenes. It kind of sounds like those semi-mature youngsters you may have running around the house... you know, teens. The eight rows of ctenes beat in a synchronized fashion that helps propel the animal forward with the mouth or oral end leading the charge. The ctenes often create an iridescent color that can be quite beautiful.

Venus' girdle normally reaches a length of 40" or more and is about two inches wide, although a reliable source stated they may grow to nearly five feet in length. The one I observed was about half this size. They are extremely thin... unlike the good Dr. Bill who has prematurely developed his winter coat of blubber despite the fact he plans to spend much of winter in the tropics.

This comb jelly is an open water or pelagic critter usually found well offshore in subtropical and tropical waters. Its appearance in 10 feet of water by the dive park stairs suggests to me that the warm waters of the last few months allowed it to come north and that quite possibly the strong winds earlier drove them toward shore.

Out in open water Venus' girdle feeds on small crustaceans and pelagic molluscs in the water column. When it in turn faces a predator, it may begin undulating its ribbon-like body as an escape response.

Seeing as Venus was the goddess of love, I was kind of hoping it was a prelude to finally meeting my mermaid. Unfortunately I was not able to search further. As I was preparing for my very next dive a few days later, my underwater housing failed to function. I carefully disassembled it and believe I found the problem.. a broken ON/OFF switch on one of the internal PCBs (printed circuit boards), a part smaller than my little finger nail..

I contacted the manufacture and was told there were probably no repair parts available for this discontinued model which is only three years old. Hardly out of diapers. I can't dive without a camera... both because it is part of my horizontal trim and we all know the only time you'll see "the landlord" (you, know... whitey and I don't mean Avalon's own Whitey!) is when you don't have a camera. Therefore I've been high and dry for long two weeks.

I wrote the CEO of the company and was told there might be parts to repair my housing and prevent it from becoming yet another technologically obsolete doorstop or bookend. I also searched all over the United States and found one (just one) new housing of the exact same model. I ordered it so I should be back in the water by the time you read this. However, this is one time I really hate the rapid advance of technology. How can a housing (not to mention the Sony camcorder inside it) become obsolete in just a year?

I did talk to Santa over at Descanso Beach last weekend. I forgot to ask him for a new housing and camera to save me the $3,000. However, I did ask for a copy of his list of all the naughty women here in Avalon. He promised he would try, but then the ink in his computer printer ran out after just a quarter of the list was printed. I guess there are a lot of naughty girls here... hope they will have a "blue, blue Christmas" and go diving with me! Yes, I'm bad... but that's why you read these columns, isn't it! Ho, ho, ho.

© 2014 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Venus' girdle comb jelly (top); two other ctenophores, Leucothea and Beroe.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2014 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia