weird commerce

Weird Commerce: Jellyfish Pets

When your kid whines for a pet cat or dog, you may consider a more unique idea: an Aurelia aurita jellyfish.

Yes, jellyfish — in their mesmerizing, soothing and graceful balletic way — are becoming a popular option for both an artful piece of interior decoration and more so as pets in the U.S.

“With really good care, you can have the jellyfish live for about two-and-a-half years,” said Joe Turner, general manager at Jellyfish Art, a company specializing in the aquaculture of live jellyfish and designing and creating aquariums for homes across America — except for Hawaii and Alaska due to regulations — and some international countries.

“There’s really no one else doing this, selling jellyfish online. It’s definitely not only weird, but it brings about a lot of people’s questions, especially if they see the tanks somewhere,” said Turner. “It’s not something you think of normally as a pet, like a dog or a cat. Some people have called it ‘a living lava lamp.’”

For just $330, Jellyfish Art will set you up with its special tank, all the equipment, three months of jellyfish food and the ingredients to get the water started. Once the water is ready, about two weeks later, the company will send you a jellyfish to keep and take care of. If you want more than one, that’s an option, too. While jellyfish can live up to 2.5 years, Turner said the average jellyfish lives about a year and a half, which is double or even triple their lifespan in the wild.

“We grow and propagate all of the jellyfish in-house,” said Turner, who added that its facility is certified by the state of Florida. “Out in the ocean, they propagate, and then, there are temperature fluctuations. The Jellyfish Art aquariums provide a predator-free and temperature-stable environment to help them live a longer lifespan.”

The tank technology was developed because jellyfish cannot survive in a regular fish tank: They get stuck in corners and sucked into the filtration intakes. The specific tank engenders the correct water flow pattern designed to keep jellyfish healthy and looking beautiful.

If you haven’t heard of this before, Turner said there’s likely a reason: “There really aren’t many people out there advocating for the keeping of jellyfish.” In fact, Jellyfish Art does not really have any competitors and hasn’t since its founding five years ago.

How many jellyfish have been sold?

“It’s definitely up there — tens of thousands,” said Turner. “If I had to estimate, I’d say over 100,000 jellyfish.”

The business originally started in California back in 2011 with a Kickstarter campaign by Alex Andon, who created a five-gallon jellyfish tank because there was nothing like it in the market. The idea was so successful it was one of the first 10 successful Kickstarter campaigns. But possibly equally or more impressive is that the concept has won awards from Wired magazine and the honor of 2011 Best Product of the Year at the Global Pet Expo, the pet industry’s largest trade show.

The company now is based in Coconut Creek, Florida, and as recently as November, it launched a Kickstarter campaign for the newest model: the Cylinder Nano.

This may seem surprising, especially since jellyfish are known for their stinging qualities. Turner said he gets that question all the time, but these jellyfish do not sting.

“It depends specifically on the species of jellyfish. We provide Aurelia aurita jellyfish. However, there are a lot of different species out there,” said Turner. “I usually just stick my hands in the tank, touch them, and then, it’s not an issue after that.”

And people keep coming back for more and more jellyfish.

“We definitely see people reordering more. Sometimes, people order another jellyfish about halfway through [the current one’s life],” said Turner. “But we pride ourselves on our customer service, and that’s why we have hired marine biologists to give their recommendations and advice for customers.”

If you’re intrigued and considering a jellyfish addition to your family, there may be a few mysteries to clear up before making your decision. Or, it could be a no-brainer.

“Jellyfish themselves are really interesting because they’re about 90–95 percent water,” said Turner. “They don’t have a lot of tissue. Humans, we’re closer to 70 percent water. They don’t have a circulatory system. They have rudimentary eyes to recognize things around them, but overall, they are pretty simple creatures.”

Because they live on a steady diet of brine shrimp (sea monkeys) and a dry mix of food, they are safer than regular jellyfish in the wild.

“We’ve found that the stinging is mostly due to their diet out in the wild and the things they pick up from other organisms around them in the ocean,” said Turner. “The ones that we provide don’t really sting people at all because of their diet.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering about your new pet glowing in the dark, Turner said these jellyfish don’t come with that capability but can be made to look so: “We do offer LED lighting that illuminates the jellyfish, and that comes in different colors.”

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