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Earth Science

Scientists Says Jellyfish Are Taking Over the Oceans 274

Posted by timothy
from the on-the-upside-they-make-great-pets-and-snacks dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Karla Cripps reports at CNN that a combination of overfishing, warming water, low oxygen and pollution are creating perfect conditions for jellyfish to multiply. "The jellyfish seem to be the ones that are flourishing in this while everything else is suffering," says Australian jellyfish researcher Lisa-ann Gershwin. In 2000, a bloom of sea tomato jellyfish in Australia was so enormous — it stretched for more than 1,000 miles from north to south — that it was even visible from space. While most blooms are not quite that big, Gershwin's survey of research on jellyfish from the last few decades indicate that populations are most likely on the rise, and that this boom is taking place in an ocean that is faced with overfishing, acid rain, nutrient pollution from fertilizers and climate change, among other problems. This past summer, southern Europe experienced one of its worst jellyfish infestations ever. Experts there have been reporting a steady increase in the number of jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea for years. With more than 2,000 species of jellyfish swimming through the world's waters, most stings are completely harmless, some will leave you in excruciating pain, then there are the killers. There are several species of big box jellyfish that have caused many deaths — these include chironex fleckeri in Australia, known as the "most lethal jellyfish in the world whose sting can kill in three minutes. "Just the lightest brush — you don't even feel it — and then, whammo, you're in more pain than you ever could have imagined, and you are struggling to breathe and you can't move your limbs and you can't stop vomiting and your blood pressure just keeps going up and up," says Gershwin. "It is really surprising how many places they occur around the world — places you would never expect: Hawaii, Caribbean, Florida, Wales, New Caledonia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, India ... as well as Australia.""
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Scientists Says Jellyfish Are Taking Over the Oceans

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  • Ethical fishing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:07PM (#45356897)

    Time to dust off that recipe for sesame jelly fish with chili sauce.

    • Re:Ethical fishing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dpilot (134227) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:16PM (#45357015) Homepage Journal

      I know you're making a joke, but it's actually serious. They're busy trying to promote eating Lionfish, another troublesome invasive species. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lionfish can also be dangerous to handle, so part of the promotion is teaching people how to safely handle and prepare them.

      There were several jellyfish recpies, but your sesame jellyfish is the only one with a picture.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I always read articles about that sort of thing but I can never find them in any market. Why are invasive species not more readily available to purchase?

      • Perhaps not coincidentally, Lionfish can also be dangerous to handle, so part of the promotion is teaching people how to safely handle and prepare them.

        They could market it to the adventurous folks: "Better than fugu: Now twice as dangerous!"

      • Japan is having a real problem with the jellyfish invasions wiping out the schools of fish they use for food, filling nets with nothing but worthless jellies. Their idea? Top chefs are promoting jellyfish sushi at trade shows. It's been on menus for decades but few customers would order it because of the consistency, so turning around that perception is likely to be important in maintaining their national food supply levels in the future.

        (Disclaimer: this post formed under the influence of powerful cold and

        • by slew (2918) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @02:03PM (#45358353)

          Lobster used to be prisoner food, until someone got the bright idea to use the newly available railroad to sell canned lobster to inland dwellers who didn't know better and considered all seafood a delicacy.

          Foie gras used to simply be a kosher source of cooking fat (since lard isn't kosher). It wasn't until the French gourmands elevated it to a delicacy.

      • Re:Ethical fishing (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Derec01 (1668942) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @01:48PM (#45358147)

        I am concerned that's a terrible solution. Largely because if the fish comes into demand, and the cost to farm them drops below the catch and transport cost from where they already are invading, you could just get introductions to new places.

        It would seem to work as long as they are incredibly plentiful, but we certainly haven't eliminated chickens by eating them.

      • Re:Ethical fishing (Score:4, Interesting)

        by bronzemug (657413) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @04:25PM (#45359865)
        Why do we have to eat them..? Can't they be used as livestock feed ?
    • Was just about to say the same thing, glad to see I'm not alone. Together we can eat our way out of this problem!
    • Re:Ethical fishing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 07, 2013 @01:13PM (#45357677)

      What we need to do, is help sea turtles out more, as they are the ones that were eating these jellyfish for centuries before their population took a hit.

    • What about feeding people indirectly y first feeding the jellyfish to some animal that humans eat? Could jellyfish be made into feed for salmon or other fish farm fish species and if so, what effect would that have on the nutritional contents of the farmed fish?

  • On the plus side (Score:5, Informative)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:07PM (#45356901)

    Many endangered species, such as sea turtles, eat jellyfish.

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:10PM (#45356937) Homepage Journal

      And if we hadn't overfished turtles(with their incredibly long life cycle), the jellyfish population would likely be in check.

    • Re:On the plus side (Score:5, Interesting)

      by afidel (530433) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:14PM (#45356971)

      The biggest thing we can do to help turtles is to install UV lights on commercial fishing nets to significantly reduce the bycatch rate, turtles can see into the UV spectrum but fish cannot so there is no impact on the fishermen other than a fairly minimal cost for waterproof led housings.

    • Re:On the plus side (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dixie_Flatline (5077) <vincent.jan.goh@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:14PM (#45356979) Homepage

      The problem is that it takes whole ecosystems to successfully fend off encroaching jellyfish, which is why they're on the rise--the ecosystems are collapsing.

      There are a few creatures that eat jellyfish, but they eat EVERYTHING. Once the ecosystem starts to crumble, jellyfish feed into the loop by eating larvae and fry and eggs and anything available. They're good in anoxic environments, they're not affected by acidification (since they have no hard parts that are vulnerable; the only hard part they have isn't impacted), and they provide low nutritional value back to the ocean despite their intake.

      It's a bit of a miracle that the oceans ever moved past the jellyfish stage at all. They're very old, really adaptable, and very, very good at surviving.

      • You'd be surprised at just how much competitive benefit a central nervous system provides.

        • I dunno, doesn't seem to help people being stung by jellyfish. :)

          I think we might be able to engineer our way out of the worst of it, but it's clear that without the benefit of sheer numbers and biomass, jellyfish can wildly out-compete already struggling ecosystems. If we don't want to be eating jellyfish chips for the next 100 years as our main source of seafood, we're really going to have to do better with regards to the ocean.

        • Re:On the plus side (Score:4, Informative)

          by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:36PM (#45357279)

          Jellyfish do have a very minimalistic nervous system. It's simple, but it's there. Visible in some species as a ring around the bell, near the edge. Just enough to handle the only two things a jellyfish needs to do: Swim straight (It makes sure the bell contracts in sync, not one side before the other) and handle the task of transferring food from tentacles to stomach.

        • It's not much of an edge up against the sheer overwhelming weight of numbers the jellyfish have achieved. There's little any individual can do when billions of jellyfish clean out it's entire ecosystem.

      • Re:On the plus side (Score:5, Interesting)

        by denis-The-menace (471988) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:23PM (#45357131)

        I read what is REALLY helping them spread are all those floating bits of plastic out there.

        Jellyfish spores need something to cling-to to survive.
        That used to be very hard in the ocean because it's all water.

        But today, thanks to plastic bits floating everywhere in the ocean, this is no longer a problem.

        • That may be a factor, but as I understand from a documentary I saw a few months ago (is Slashdot temporally displaced or something?) the overfishing of areas where they spawn means their aren't enough fish hoovering up the billions of jellyfish eggs generated per spawning individual and their populations are out of control.

      • Re:On the plus side (Score:5, Interesting)

        by catchblue22 (1004569) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @01:00PM (#45357525) Homepage

        I wrote a summary of research paper 10 years ago for a course I was taking. That paper described what happened in the Black Sea after top level predators were removed. As I remember, the removal of the top level predators made the entire ecosystem unstable. Overfishing of smaller fish opened up a niche for other species like jellyfish, which then displaced for a time the opportunities for the populations of the small fish to recover.

        In essence, this is what is happening worldwide. We are killing off the sharks via the shark fin industry, and sharks are the top level predator in the ocean. We are also overfishing smaller species. This seems to be opening up niches for jellyfish, which may displace the fish that we normally eat. This experiment has already been carried out in the Black Sea, and the results are not good.

      • The main ecosystem failure causing this has been in the jellyfish spawning grounds themselves. The fish that would normally pork their way through the billions upon billions of jellyfish eggs have been over-fished to the tipping point where the jellyfish population has exploded out of control and overwhelmed all the other species in the region. The clouds of fertilized eggs then wash out into the ocean and the immense blooms form thousands of miles from the spawning grounds where the adults do some porking

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:17PM (#45357023)

      Slashdot headline 50 years from now:

      "Scientists Says Turtles Are Taking Over the Oceans"

      (The typo is intentional, because even in 50 years, /. will still lack quality control.)

      • Maybe in 50 years there will be a magazine named "Scientists", and your headline will make perfect sense.
    • by s.petry (762400)

      I believe this was a joke and mistakenly modded "informative" instead of funny. Giving an endangered species more jellyfish to eat does not fix the pollution and environmental damage that caused them to become endangered to begin with.

  • by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:17PM (#45357031)

    "It is really surprising how many places they occur around the world — places you would never expect: Hawaii, Caribbean, Florida, Wales, New Caledonia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, India ... as well as Australia.""

    No, places I would never expect would be Kansas, Siberia and the middle of the Sahara. If cable television has taught me anything, it's that the sea is out to kill me. If I can smell saltwater in the air, I'm expecting some explosion of deadliness.

  • by VernonNemitz (581327) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:18PM (#45357043) Journal
    Does anyone know how vulnerable dolphins are to jellyfish stings? They don't have a layer of protective scales like fish, and there is a long-standing mystery regarding dolphin beachings.
  • I, for one, welcome our new jellyfish overlords.

    I Soviet Russia, jellyfish sting you! wait.. that one doesn't work.

    and of course:

    frist post! posted from my raspberry pi.

  • Chironex fleckeri (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:19PM (#45357075)

    Capital letter for genus, lower case for species. Like Homo sapiens. Not "Homo Sapiens" or "homo sapiens". The two parts of a species name should also be italicized (i.e. Chironex fleckeri). Although it's a little technical, it's not a hard rule to remember when using species names.

  • by Aguazul2 (2591049) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:23PM (#45357117)

    Can't we find a use for them? As soon as capitalism gets to work on them, they'll be goners too.

  • by benjfowler (239527) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:24PM (#45357143)

    Let's hear it from greedy fisherman and their right-wing supporters, who think it's humanity's God-given right to rape the oceans and trash the food chain upon which everything depends... human greed will do us in for sure, because it overrides even the survival instinct.

    • We can either look at it from a moral perspective or from a selfish survival perspective. I prefer the latter - reduction of biodiversity in the ecosphere reduces humanity's long term continuation chances.

  • that grammar nazis should take over slashdot

    Anyway once the jellyfish have eaten all the fish in the area, what do they live on?

  • "Visible from space" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @12:27PM (#45357173)

    I've seen Google Maps. My car is "visible from space."

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Not really. Google Maps' imagery is taken from planes. Your car would be a blur on even the best spy satellite (IAA Intelligence Analyst).
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I often go crabbing up the indian arm in Vancouver - during summer the last 3 years i've noticed a ridiculous amount of jellyfish.. you literally cannot look anywhere in the water and not see jellyfish... pulling a crab trap up through the water column sees you cutting through like 100 of them.

  • "it was even visible from space"

    My house is "visible from space": it's right there on Google Maps. This phrase is meaningless, because it's almost entirely a function of weather, the camera being used, and whether something is covered.

    (On the other hand, it's often parroted that the Great Wall of China is "the only man-made object visible from space" ... but even one of China's own astronauts admitted that he couldn't pick it out from Low Earth Orbit.)
    • Also depends if you consider an entire city as one object. Plenty of those are visible.

    • Google maps uses images from aircraft, not spacecraft.
      But yes, the quality of the optics matters. A spacecraft with a big telescope, like a spy satellite, will have a much easier time seeing things on the ground than an astronaut with only eyes.
    • My house is "visible from space"

      That's nothing, the guy 2 posts above you says his car is visible from space. So you must either live in a small house, or that guy drives a huge car.

    • by Valdrax (32670)

      My house is "visible from space": it's right there on Google Maps. This phrase is meaningless, because it's almost entirely a function of weather, the camera being used, and whether something is covered.

      The phrase "visible from space" is generally considered short-hand for "visible from space with the naked eye." An unobstructed view is also assumed, because it would be pointless to consider the alternative, and normal vision can also be assumed for similar reasons. The only real variable that matters that isn't often explained is just how high up you are.

      It seems that a 1000 mile long mass could qualify if it was wide enough. It's impossible to say just from the length, though, without the width of the

  • Give a more profitable use to jellyfish (even if it is for making glow-in-the-dark ice cream [dailymail.co.uk], or other uses [discovery.com]) better than "normal" fishes and the balance could be reached again... before is too late [theherald.com.au].
  • There are some countries that will not never stop over-fishing. I cannot imaging that carbon emissions will go down anytime soon.

  • Dory: [sees a very small baby jellyfish] I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy Come on, Squishy Come on, little Squishy...

    [makes baby talk and slowly touches the jellyfish, getting shocked]

    Dory: [pulling her fin away quickly] Ow! Bad squishy, bad squishy!

  • Restore the plankton and you've restored the bottom of the food chain.

    The plankton have died off by at least 40% [scientificamerican.com] over the past 60 years. John Martin at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute hypothesized in the early 90's that the die-off was due to diminishing iron in the ocean surface waters. He was quoted as saying "Give me a freighter full of iron fertilizer and I'll give you an ice age." meaning that spraying iron onto the ocean's surface would re-populate the plankton and they in turn would cons

  • Humans (and other vertebratans) have been feeding on mollusca denizens for centuries...and they are getting pissed off about it. Snails, clams, octopus, squid, abalone, and geoducks...we've had our fill and then some. Not to mention the unspeakable things humans routinely do to slugs. Molluscans have had enough of our abuse and they are coming after us.
  • Jellyfish-powered cars?
  • Jellyfish is a delicacy in China. Maybe if the seafood restaurants around the world can start promoting jellyfish as a Chinese delicacy, we balance the seas out again.
  • Obvious Solution! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by StefanJ (88986) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @02:18PM (#45358555) Homepage Journal

    Build ships which vaccuum up jellyfish, puree them, and use the proteins as feed stock for 3D printing of food. The stingers can get filtered out, or just left into the low-grade product used in prisons and orphanages.

    I'm sure that Red Lobster can come up with some clever marketing term for this stuff. After the actual lobsters, cod, and king crabs die off they'll have plenty of motivation.

    Interesting Geek-culture historical note: In the 1973 movie "Soylent Green," the titular product is supposed to be made from krill scooped from the oceans. The underlying horror of the movie isn't that the crackers are made of dead people, but that the ocean ecosystem has collapsed due to pollution. The movie also has Edward G. Robinson bitching about how the greenhouse effect has made it hot and damp year-round.

  • Blue bottle sting (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Thursday November 07, 2013 @08:44PM (#45363089) Journal

    Last year I got stung by a fairly common benign species of jellyfish called a blue bottle in the surf on a hot summer's day swim.

    I came up to the surface with the thing about a meter in front of me and immediately tried to escape. The tentacle wrapped around my left arm from my knuckles to the armpit, across the chest and onto the right are and, somehow, on my right left.

    The Lifesavers (clubbies) saw the whole thing as I got out of the surf two of them helped me over to the clubhouse and doused me we very hot water. Over the next three hours I had icepacks all over me and a nurse debated whether I would go to hospital as I just hung onto consciousness due to shock. The pain was astounding, my glands were inflated and later it felt like my testicles had been massaged by a hammer. I had welts on my arms for a couple of weeks from the sting. A year later I am still pulling stingers out of my arms which come up as painful little pimple like things that bleed and take about two weeks to heal (I'm looking at three now).

    That's "a fairly common benign species of jellyfish".

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