Fact Check

Is This a 'Spanish Dancer Jellyfish'?

"Spanish Dancer" is a type of sea slug and not a jellyfish.

Published Oct. 24, 2016

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
A photograph shows a 'Spanish Dancer Jellyfish.'

An image showing a colorful underwater object is frequently shared along with captions identifying it as a "Spanish Dancer Jellyfish":

spanish dancer jellyfish

However, this claim is problematic for two reasons. First, a "Spanish Dancer" is a type of sea slug and not a jellyfish. Second, the above-displayed picture is a digital image created with a computer program.

The "Spanish Dancer Jellyfish" image seen here was created by underwater photographer and fractal artist Francis Le Guen, who manipulated an image of a "Spanish Dancer" sea slug in order to create this image. Le Guen talked about the process during an interview with Diver in 2012:

A French diver is using a new artform to explore the underwater world from his computer — and reckons there are no limits to ways in which that world can be extended.

Francis Le Guen is a man of many parts, though they all seem to cross over. Now 50, he comes from an artistic family and started out as a photo-journalist and documentary film-maker, but he also writes for TV and has edited two French diving magazines. One way and another, the underwater world informs many of his activities.

After discovering all the exotic software available to 21st century digital artists, packages with names such as Ultrafractal and Mandelbulb 3D, Francis started turning out work based, among other things, on his underwater photography.

“Its diving, and especially cave-diving, that first inspired me to make images,” he says. “I made my first photos in flooded caves. The underwater landscapes I discovered were so unreal — and I now realize that this was because they were fractal. Natural forms come under the laws of fractal mathematics.

"When I decided to make digital paintings I chose the underwater world, because its my world. I know the feeling, the texture of water, the way the light plays in the composition.

“And I discovered that the software could generate quite easily the underwater mood I love. There are other fractalists but no one, as far as I know, making underwater scenes.

“I’ve always explored,” he goes on. “I practised scuba-diving and cave-diving for two decades at the highest level, discovering fabulous worlds.”

While we have not been able to uncover the original "Spanish Dancer" image used to create Le Guen's artwork, the photograph at the head of this page shows what a picture of this sea slug (Hexabranchus sanguineus) looks like before it is run through a computer program.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.