Pololia – Jellyfish and Siphonophores – Cnidaria

Biology Connections – Ike Noeau:

Pololia, commonly known as jellyfish but incorporating a range of different animals in the cnidarian family, have roamed the oceans for thousands of years. There is technically no such thing as a jellyfish, although the name is used to represent a group of gelatinous organisms in the cnidarian family including scyphozoans, cubozoans, hydromedusae, and siphonophores, which are all closely related to corals and sea anemones. These animals all have stinging harpoon organelles in the cells of their tentacles called nematocysts which stun prey before they are liquified and digested. Polilia usually eat shrimp, crabs, and other jellies although some feed using symbiotic algae. The warm coastal waters around Hawaii are home to many pololia species including the Moon, Box, Lagoon/Spotted Jellyfish, and Portugese Man O’War. The Box Jellyfish, in the family Cubozoans, have 24 eyes, sporn every new moon, and possess the most toxic toxin in the animal kingdom. The Lagoon/Spotted Jellyfish, in the family, sporting club-like tentacles and a round bell, has symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae living within it’s tissue, much like corals, which help produce its nutrients. The Moon Jelly, in the most generic family of jellyfish the scyphozoans, have translucent circular bodies and are found in quiet bays and harbors of the tropics. Although not technically a jellyfish, the siphonophore Portugese Man O’War, which goes by the Hawaiian names ‘ili mane‘o, palalia, and pa’imalau, is also found in Hawaiian waters. The Portuguese Man O’War is a carnivorous colony of organisms working together to roam the seas. There are four main types of polyps in a Portugese Man O’War. A single polyp forms the gas filled bladder which is used as a blue sail to ride across the ocean. Another type of polyp makes up the stinging tentacles, which can extend to 165 feet below the surface (although they average 30 feet) and are lined with stinging nematocysts. Another type of polyp makes up the feeding tentacles and a final polyp contains the reproductive organs. 

Cultural Connections – Mo’olelo:

Various Polynesian legends have it that the legendary god Maui was thrown into the sea by his mother Hina after he was born prematurely. Whilst in the water, it was the jellyfish that cared and mothered him. Eventually, he found his way to land where he grew strong and learned all his skills.


The jellyfish is featured in line 456 of the Hawaiian creation chant,

Hanau ka Opeope noho i kai
Born is the Opeope jellyfish living in the sea