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Are Jellyfish In Pensacola?

Few beaches in the States can compare to Pensacola on the Florida coastline.

Clear, warm, subtropical waters, glorious white sand, sunshine (mostly), and quirky locals make Pensacola the ideal destination.

However, most of us also enjoy beachgoer safety, including wildlife like jellyfish and other marine creatures. So, before you pack your bags, you should ask, are jellyfish in Pensacola?

The Pensacola coastline has jellyfish year-round, but particularly between May and October.

There is usually an exponential increase in some jellyfish species numbers around August, and massive swarms are often seen twice a year.

The most common jellyfish found at Pensacola is the moon jellyfish.

Jellyfish are an essential part of the marine ecosystem, but most of us don’t enjoy the thought of swimming into a swarm of stinging organisms.

To help arm yourself with knowledge, we’ll investigate the types of jellyfish at Pensacola, where they are located, why they come, what to do if you’ve seen some, and what to do if you’ve been stung.

Jellyfish Seasonality, Distribution, Species, And Behavior In Pensacola

Jellyfish belong to the Cnidaria phylum, a group of similar organisms with roughly 9 000 species.

Jellyfish are a primitive organism found in our oceans, and they play a critical role in the environment.

Jellyfish occur in marine waters (and some freshwater areas) but show the greatest diversity and density in tropical waters.  

Why Do We Find Jellyfish At Pensacola Beach?

The Pensacola Beach area of Florida is in a subtropical zone, which means that the water temperature is ideal for many jellyfish species

Jellyfish require water to live, and that’s where you’ll find them; however, you’ll often find them washed up on the beach between the high and low tide zones. 

The reasons for jellyfish washing up on the beach include: 

  • Strong waves/rough seas created by strong winds (especially the Portuguese Man O’ War) wash jellyfish onto the shore. Hurricane weather is a prime condition for jellyfish beaching.
  • Some jellyfish drift along in the ocean without propelling themselves against strong currents, so they drift to the shoreline.
  • Even strong tidal action (like spring tides) causes jellyfish to wash onto the beach.

The same prevalent strong winds and currents/tides forcing jellyfish to their ultimate demise stranded on the beach propels jellyfish through the ocean.

Jellyfish “blooms” usually occur between May and October, significantly increasing during August. The increase in jellyfish within the Gulf area coincides with more frequent storm weather. 

Where In Pensacola Do Jellyfish Occur?

Jellyfish are marine-dwelling organisms. Many species “drift” along currents and “migrate” into bays and other cove-like areas.

Jellyfish are found offshore, in deeper waters, and inshore, in shallower waters where bathers/beachgoers swim.

Some jellyfish species also make their way into estuaries and bay areas. 

Jellyfish also wash up on the beach, which is a natural occurrence. These stranded jellyfish quickly desiccate and perish.

Which Jellyfish Frequent Pensacola?

Jellyfish belong to the Scyphozoa class, and there are roughly 200 species. They also belong to the Cubozoa class, of which there are 20 species globally.  

Around Pensacola, you’re likely to bump into the following species.

1. Atlantic Sea Nettle Jellyfish

The Atlantic Sea Nettle Jellyfish (sea nettle), Chrysaora quinquecirrha, varies in size (4 to 8-inch bells and 2 to 7 inches long) and coloration depending on the area.

You can find sea nettles in the open ocean, bay areas, and estuaries. 

They have a saucer-shaped bell with four long oral appendages that hang from the bell.

They have between 4 and 40 tentacles ranging from pink to maroon-red in the open ocean and white for individuals in estuaries.

These jellyfish eat comb jellies, small fish, copepods, and zooplankton.

2. Box Jellyfish

Box jellyfish (Chiropsalmus quadrumanus) are easily recognizable by their box-like shaped bell, with four tentacles, one at each corner.

There are between 20 and 50 box jelly species, and not all of them are dangerous.

Many of these jellies are good swimmers, diving under strong currents. They also have “eyes” and swim away from potential threats.

Box jellyfish range from under 1 to 8 inches (box), and their tentacles can reach 10 feet. They eat small fish and invertebrates. 

3. Cannonball (Cabbagehead) Jellyfish

Cannonball jellyfish (Stomolophus meleagris) occur in the Destin area from November to April.

These roughly 7 to 10-inch jellyfish have a half-egg shape and are usually blue or yellow with brown on the border of their bell. 

These jellyfish are also good swimmers and eat mainly zooplankton. 

4. Mushroom Jellyfish

Mushroom jellyfish (Rhopilema verrilli) are named for their shape, resembling mushrooms. These jellyfish lack tentacles and hold their stinging cells (nematocysts) in their bells.

Mushroom jellyfish are between 13 and 20 inches in diameter and are white, blue, brown, green, light-yellow, or pink. 

They occur in open waters and some estuaries and eat plankton. 

5. Moon Jellyfish

Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) grow between 10 and 16-inches and are mostly transparent. They are usually located inshore, around harbors and estuaries.

These jellyfish eat medusas, mollusks, and plankton. 

6. Pink Meanie Jellyfish

The pink meanie jellyfish (Drymonema larsoni) is a relatively newly described species with hundreds of tentacles and wide distribution. 

These jellyfish eat other jellyfish (including moon jellies). 

7. Upside-Down Jellyfish

The upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea sp) is another widespread group of jellyfish. These jellyfish get their common name from their habit of floating upside-down. 

Due to their upside-down nature, these jellyfish have a flattened bell (for resting on the ocean floor) of 0.8 to 12 inches in diameter. 

Their eight arms are blue, gray, or green and float above the jellyfish. Upside-down jellyfish are good swimmers, but they are often inshore species, close to estuaries and lagoons, in water less than 3.3 feet.

These jellyfish have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae and receive roughly 90% of their diets from this algae. The rest comes from zooplankton. 

Jellyfish Look-Alikes Found In Pensacola

Aside from “true” jellyfish, there are numerous “look-alikes” along the Pensacola coastline, including:

  • Blue-button 
  • By-The-Wind Sailor
  • Comb jellies
  • Portuguese Man O War

Are Any Of These Jellyfish Dangerous?

Most jellyfish are venomous, but not all jellyfish are dangerous. 

Pensacola jellyfish to watch out for include:

  • The Box Jellyfish
  • The Pink Meanie
  • Portuguese Man O’ War (not a true jellyfish)

These three cnidarians are responsible for the majority of severe stings.

Ideally, treat all jellyfish as venomous and be cautious when handling/around them. As with bee stings, if someone is allergic to the venom, they could experience complications even from a “mildly” venomous jellyfish.

What To Do If You See Jellyfish in Pensacola?

If you notice one or two jellyfish in the water, it’s not too drastic, but you should note what type of jellyfish they are and look for more. 

Although panic is the last thing you should do, it would be wise to make a hasty retreat from the water if you notice jellyfish around you. 

Once out, it would be best to report the sighting to a lifeguard/authority figure on the beach, as they will have a protocol to follow.

If you find jellyfish on the beach, don’t touch them as they could still deliver a painful sting.

How Do I Know If There Are Jellyfish In The Area?

When you arrive at the beach, make a quick inspection of the area, looking between the high and low tide marks and in the shallows. 

Jellyfish are generally not too difficult to spot, especially if there is a swarm. Keeping your eyes open for tentacles and oral arms is a good way to notice jellyfish.

You might not be the only person to notice them. A purple flag indicates that someone spotted jellyfish swarms in the area, and the warning is up.

You’ll probably feel a mild to intense pain/sting sensation if you accidentally touch a jellyfish. 

How To React If A Jellyfish Stings You

Not all jellyfish stings are severe, and not all venom is the same. Different people might experience different symptoms.

Many sources argue certain points; however, the general advice when stung by a jellyfish is to:

  1. Get out of the water/move away from the jellyfish.
  2. Wash the area with saltwater.
  3. Pour vinegar onto the site and then soak in hot water.
  4. Use tweezers to remove the tentacles.
  5. Don’t rub the area or put anything on it.

Call 911 if:

  • The perpetrating jellyfish was a box jelly or other dangerous type.
  • If the area stung is greater than half the arm/leg.
  • The stung individual has an allergic reaction.

Precautions To Take To Avoid Getting Stung By A Jellyfish?

Preventing a jellyfish sting is better than treating one.

To avoid a jellyfish sting:

  1. Don’t swim during a jellyfish swarm.
  2. Swim close to where the lifeguards are.
  3. Wear protective clothing/a wetsuit.
  4. Be observant. 


There are jellyfish around Pensacola year-round, with a marked increase close to August.

Jellyfish are widespread and end up in bays or on the beach due to strong weather conditions.

Although there are several jellyfish and related species around Pensacola, not all of them are dangerous.

However, you should always practice caution and avoid contact with jellyfish as much as possible.

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