Jellyfish return to the nation’s coasts

They’re back!

And we’re not talking hurricanes, though that season is officially underway.

And, no, this is not about sharks, since Discovery’s dubious Shark Week doesn’t start until the end of July.
No, it’s time for the increasingly unpopular annual return of swarms of jellyfish to beaches around the world. Last year they made much of the western Mediterranean unswimmable. A couple of weekend’s ago – the official start of summer — thousands of nasty, golf-ball sized jellyfish washed ashore on a 10-mile stretch of Florida’s east coast, stinging a reported 1,800 swimmers. Red warning flags were posted on beaches from Cocoa Beach to Cape Canaveral.

In large part thanks to the overfishing of big predator fish and warmer ocean waters, jellies are showing up sooner, in bigger numbers and far beyond home territories. In Florida they clogged the shallows and took over the wet sand of the beach. Lifeguard stands stocked up with vinegar-and-water solutions to help try and diffuse the itching, burning and rashes, which I guess beats urinating on them, though its proven that Benadryl cream helps alleviate itching and swelling. Despite air temps in the 90s and water temperature of 79, wetsuits were very popular. Innocent kids picked them up and tossed them at each other, only to be stung. Tough guys waded into the shallows attempting to shrug them off but were quickly running towards the lifeguard stands and that vinegar solution. At least two jelly victims were hospitalized.The beachings are as bad for the jellies as for man; as soon as they hit the sand, they start to die. And there are so many of them huddled en masse in the shallows that they soon run out of food.

It’s not just the abundance of jellyfish in Florida’s that was surprising, it was the species. The critters washing ashore in the thousands were so-called “mauve stingers,” which haven’t washed up on Florida beaches for more than a decade (more common are the blue Portuguese man-of-war or cannonball varieties). Compact but fitted with long tentacles, these are exactly the same jellyfish that harassed Mediterranean beaches during the summer of 2010.

Scientists believe they were transported across the Atlantic in the Gulf Stream, which wraps around the coast of Florida, suggesting they will be a hindrance on many Gator state beaches this summer. Meanwhile across the pond, biologists who study the Irish Sea are blaming a similar boom in jellyfish there on the overfishing of herring, which has given jellyfish an “exponential boost” in population. The trend has been growing since 2005.

Though explanation for why these jellyfish on these beaches is still being studied, it’s clear that since humankind has taken 100 to 120 million tons of predators out of the sea in the past 20 years it’s left plenty of room for jellyfish populations to boom. Jellyfish thrive in disturbed marine ecosystems, from dead zones to seabeds that have been raked by trawling nets. And they are spreading around the world thanks to powerful currents and aided by stowing away on fleets of ships delivering goods around the globe.

In Florida, maybe the only person happier than the pharmacist selling all that Benadryl was a Cocoa Beach, Florida, coconut salesman who claimed the less time people spent actually in the water cooling off, the thirstier they were.

[flickr image via jepoirrier]

Video of the Day – Jellyfish Lake, Palau

Swimming in water filled with millions of jellyfish may be most people’s worst nightmare. But for visitors to the Palauan island of Eil Malik, it’s the main attraction.

Situated about 500 miles east of the Philippines, Jellyfish Lake is one of 70 marine lakes on Eil Malik that was formed when the ocean receded over 12,000 years ago. After being trapped in this natural basin, the jellyfish that inhabited the lake gradually evolved without the ability to sting since there were no predators sharing the same waters. Now, daring snorklers can fulfill their worst nightmares (or biggest dreams) by swimming among the jellyfish without being stung. However, those with sensitive skin are advised to wear a wetsuit or protective clothing.

This beautiful, dreamy music video comes from photographer/videographer Sarosh Jacob who captured his adventure with a Canon 5D Mark II and a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens, set to Radiohead’s “Nude”. For more great underwater videos, check out Sarosh’s Vimeo page.

What’s the most daring adventure you’ve been on? Share it with us! Upload photos to Gadling’s Flickr Pool or leave a comment with a link to your video in the comments below & we may select it as our next Photo/Video of the Day!

Night at the Valencia Aquarium – Videos and More

It was a dark and stormy night when I visited the Valencia Aquarium, The Oceanografic in the outlandish City of Arts and Sciences complex. No really, it was dark and stormy. When I arrived at around 6 PM, the sun had set, and it was raining intermittently. I was cold and worn out and definitely ready for a couple of hours of underwater magic.

The Oceanografic closes at 8, but I had a 9 PM reservation at L’Oceanografic Submarino Restaurant, a suprising gem hidden beneath the strange, intriguing building above at the right (designed by Felix Candela to resemble a water lily). I figured I’d arrive at 6 and kill the hour in between, not realizing that meant I’d be visiting an aquarium in the dark. Had I known that many of the exhibits are outdoors, or that natural light illuminates some of the enclosures, I’m not sure I would have chosen to visit at night, but I did — and I’m glad. There was an esoteric thrill to the ambience. As people poured out of the last dolphin show holding jackets over their heads to stay dry, I couldn’t help but feel like I was participating in some kind of secret aquarium lock-in. And, the other-worldly atmosphere of the restaurant at the end of the evening felt all the more exclusive.

The Oceanografic has to be one of the finest aquariums I’ve seen anywhere. It’s beautifully, artistically designed, and I never felt like I was in a preschool, which is what aquariums often feel like to me. Let’s start with a video of one of the most wonderful sights at the Oceanografic: the jellyfish (be sure and select the HD option!).

I’m partial to the jellyfish, but wouldn’t want to underrepresent the aquarium’s other precious marine inhabitants (of which there are over 45,000). Here’s a quick tour of some of the highlights:

The Valencia Oceanografic, which opened in 2002, is the largest aquarium in Europe at 360,892 square feet. It is a center both for education and for research, and has already been privy to over 100 animal births. The aquarium is divided into 10 sections, with 80 percent of the exhibits underground.

There are several restaurants at the aquarium, and one opens up for dinner at 9 PM: Submarino. That’s where I headed, slightly drenched, after killing the in-between hour in the nearby mall, for what turned into a lavish, decadent dinner of inspired modern cuisine on my final night in Valencia. The decor was stunning and the circular underground dining area was surrounded by wall-to-wall windows into an enormous tank of palometa, swimming counter-clockwise all around.

Check out the gallery for images of the amazing Submarino restaurant, and some more of the terrific marine animals the Oceanografic has to offer.


Read more about Valencia here!

[Photos and video by Annie Scott.]

This trip was sponsored by Cool Capitals and Tourismo Valencia, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Bowermaster’s Adventures: Navigating the hordes of jellyfish

Jellyfish — those gelatinous, stinging, floating-condoms-of-the-sea, the pint-sized boogeyman of the ocean are fast becoming the equivalent of a coal mine’s canaries. Appearing this summer en masse along coastlines around the globe, jellyfish are evidence of just how badly we’re treating the ocean and with painful results.

During the last days of summer jellyfish swarmed the Atlantic coast of Spain stinging hundreds on a single day, sending many swimmers to the hospital. While most of the stinging effects would go away in a week or two, many can still itch months later and sometimes require surgery to remove the affected area.

Dubbed a couple years back by the New York Times as the “cockroaches of the sea,” hordes of jellyfish have been showing up in similar abundances along beaches in New York, France, Japan and Hawaii, stinging innocent passersby and clogging fishing nets.

While jellyfish do little more than float with the currents and sting only when bumped into, last year more than 30,000 Australians were treated for stings, double the year before. Such swarming used to happen on occasion, but last just a couple days. Now some are lasting for weeks. In Spain this summer a fishing boat from the Murcia region reported an offshore swarm of iridescent purple jellyfish spread over a mile.

“Those jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us saying ‘Look how badly you are treating me,’ ” jellyfish expert Dr. Josep-Maria Gili with the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council told the New York Times.

Experts believe this is a problem that’s only going to grow in years to come, thanks to a variety of environmental ills bearing down on the ocean simultaneously:

1. GLOBAL WARMING increases sea surface temperatures, which encourage jellyfish growth, as does a corresponding lack of rainfall. Typically freshwater from rain aggregates near shore and helps keeps the jellyfish at a distance; lack of rain due to a changing climate – as they’ve experienced along the European coasts this summer — means jellyfish float closer and closer to shore.

2. COASTAL POLLUTION reduces oxygen levels and visibility in the water, which scares most fish away from the shoreline but is conditions in which jellyfish thrive. While most fish have to see their catch, jellyfish filter food from the water, so eat passively.

3. OVERFISHING eliminates natural predators of jellyfish like tuna and swordfish, which also allows for more plankton growth, which helps the jellyfish proliferate.

One bright note to the boom? Some predict in the not-so-distant future jellyfish may be the only marine life left and thus may become a dietary staple. Savvy scientists, like the University of British Columbia’s Daniel Pauly, believe thanks largely to overfishing that we better start working on some jellyfish recipes … and fast.
Eating jellyfish is already prevalent in some Asian and Third World countries where sea cucumbers and sea urchins – “which live off dirt,” notes Pauly – are already on menus. When Pauly first suggested the notion of jellyfish sandwiches, it was intended as a joke. Not today.

Giant jellyfish cause boat to capsize

A school of giant Nomura’s jellyfish are being blamed for the sinking of a fishing boat earlier this week, sending the three man crew overboard, and the 10-ton ship to the bottom of the ocean just off the eastern coast of Japan.

According to this story from Sky News, the fishermen were attempting to pull in a net filled with the creatures, but the weight of the catch caused the boat to roll onto its side and begin taking on water. The species of jellyfish are known to weigh in excess of 450 pounds, and can be more than two meters in diameter, which gives you an indication of just how large these beasts can grow.

2009 seems to have been a banner year for the Nomura’s jellyfish, as the waters between China and Japan have seen an unusual number of the creatures in recent months. Scientists believe it is due to near perfect weather and water conditions throughout the year, and the Japanese fishing industry is preparing for an onslaught of problems in the months ahead. In the past, the jellyfish have damaged fishing equipment, stung fish caught in the nets, and clogged commercial sea lanes.

I’m not sure about you, but a 6+ foot, 400 pound jellyfish sounds pretty frightening to me. The small ones are enough to keep most people out of the water, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to come across one of these while scuba diving or snorkeling, let alone dozens of them in one area.