07 December 2017

Envisioning a "jellyfish apocalypse"

Jellyfish have been referred to as the "cockroaches of the sea," with reference to both species' ability to survive under the harshest conditions.  An article in the newest edition of The Atlantic reviews a new book about jellyfish:
Their delicacy notwithstanding, in recent decades jellyfish species have come to be thought of as the durable and opportunistic inheritors of our imperiled seas. Jellyfish blooms—the intermittent, and now widely reported, flourishing of vast swarms—are held by many to augur the depletion of marine biomes; they are seen as a signal that the oceans have been overwarmed, overfished, acidified, and befouled... The vision—hat tipped to science fiction—is of the planet’s oceans transformed into something like an aspic terrine. In waters thickened by the gummy mucus of living and dead jellyfish, other sea life will be smothered. Because jellyfish recall the capsules of single-celled protozoa, this eventuality invites portrayal as a devolution of the marine world—a reversion to the “primordial soup.”..

Perhaps the most complex issue Berwald takes on is jellyfish blackouts. Sweden, Scotland, the Philippines, Tokyo, California, and Israel have all suffered intermittent electrical outages caused by jellyfish sucked into the intake pipes and cooling systems of coal-fired and nuclear power stations... In Spineless, Berwald travels to Spain’s Murcia region and takes us to the Mar Menor lagoon, which had become so jellified in 2002 that “you couldn’t drive a boat through the water.” Here barrel and fried-egg jellyfish are pernicious—so much so that they’re removed from the sea by the bargeload and dumped into ditches near the airport.
More at that link. Then today I found a report of jellyfish menacing Chinese aircraft carriers:
In 2006, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was incapacitated while visiting Brisbane, Australia due to blubber jellyfish swarms. Reportedly, cooling pipes for the ship’s nuclear reactor were clogged with the foot-wide jellies, necessitating an evacuation of the carrier...

Ironically, the jellyfish problem is partially of China’s own doing. As many as one hundred million sharks are killed each year, much of it in the form of bycatch in an attempt to catch other forms of seafood but also for shark’s fin soup, a delicacy in China. Although demand for the soup has declined in recent years, the shark population is still way down. Sharks are a major predator of jellyfish and scientists believe their absence is a major reason why jellyfish populations have exploded.
Related: Your children will eat jellyfish for dinner.

Photo credit: GettyLucia /Terui


  1. I can confirm: I went scuba diving a few weekends ago in Monterey Bay, California, and the jellyfish (actually "Sea Nettles") were thick (like that photo, but the jellies were mostly juveniles so softball sized). Luckily they only hung out in the top 10 feet or so of the ocean, so the dive was pleasant once we got below them, but the descent was scary and annoying.

  2. I...I...I don't know what to DO! I hate sharks and jellyfish. One will tear my leg off...then kill me; the other will sting me to death. All we need to do now is weaponize jellyfish. They can apparently float right up to an aircraft carrier, probably whistling as they go, acting as if they aren't up to anything.

    I wonder how many people DIE of jellyfish stings? It's probably like that shark statistic that says only a handful of people die each year from shark attacks. Wonderful. But what they don't tell you is some of those who lived are now without an arm, leg, ear, and have nightmares every time they get in the bathtub.

  3. I was curious about the USS Reagan aircraft carrier incident so went and looked up some independent accounts of it. It appears the problems the jellyfish caused were somewhat overstated.

    Yes, they sucked jellyfish into the intakes for the cooling system for the ships power/ electrical generation -- which is powered by a nuclear reactor. But while they had to clear some of the condensers, it was seen as a minor issue, and the ship was never evacuated as claimed in the article. (Ref: News.com.au "Mighty warship feels the sting" from 27 Jan 2006 https://web.archive.org/web/20071026083724/http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,17955531-29277,00.html)

    The article also notes the ship had a similar issue when visiting Valparaiso Chile in 2004 when a condenser was fouled by several hundred squid and octopi.

    It's an interesting note -- I would expect ships to be designed to operate after traveling through areas with things like algae mats, jellyfish blooms, seaweed mats, etc.

  4. would that be a 'jellypocalypse'? or is that when you put too much jelly in your PBJ and it oozes out the sides when you bite into the sandwich?


  5. It's worth noting that Peter Benchley has said he regrets writing Jaws, and has in fact become a defender of sharks, saying, "no one appreciates how vulnerable they are to destruction".
    Clearly we've also never appreciated how valuable they are.


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