The spatial and temporal variations of planktonic cnidarians were studied across the inner continental shelf (≤40 m) off the State of Paraná in southern Brazil. Monthly zooplankton samples were taken between November 1997 and March 1999 at five stations. The holoplanktonic Liriope tetraphylla and Muggiaea kochi dominated during the entire period, comprising >80% of the specimens. The coast–ocean gradient became evident due to a near-coastal (≤20 m) assemblage formed by L. tetraphylla, Solmaris corona and meroplanktonic medusae, and a distinct outer (25–40 m) assemblage formed by the medusae Corymorpha gracilis and Aglaura hemistoma and siphonophores. The estuarine runoff during warm rainy periods lowered the salinity (~30) at the inner stations (1, 2 and 3), providing appropriate conditions for the estuarine/coastal species. Wind-driven onshore advection of outer-shelf species to the inner isobaths occurred from late autumn to winter, when the rainfall decreased and salinity increased (>35). Population peaks occurred in both summer and winter at the inner stations. For most species, the seasonal patterns were inconsistent with other studies conducted in the Southern Brazilian Bight, suggesting irregular and unpredictable seasonal distributions of abundance. Whereas in high-latitude ecosystems the dynamics of cnidarian populations follows the seasonal productivity cycle, here, complex hydrographic processes seem to be more important in determining the structure and seasonal dynamics of this community.