Jam Packed

Jellyfish Invade Area Waters in Unprecedented Numbers

FSF Staff November 21, 2011

Fortunately, most people around the world haven’t had enough close encounters with jellyfish to really build up a grudge. Free-swimming predators that are found in most coastal arenas, these translucent groupings of gelatinous goo have been roaming the world’s oceans since the beginning of time.

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Photo: doughertyphotos.com

If you spent the summer inland you may not be aware, however if you spent any considerable amount of time near the water you know exactly what we are talking about. In addition to a banner blackfin season and red-hot dolphin bite, anglers, boaters and beachgoers experienced a unique phenomenon this summer. Along with bluebird skies and heat indexes eclipsing 100 degrees, water lovers statewide encountered overwhelming numbers of jellyfish.

Anglers throughout the state were also susceptible to stings, as these floating mines have a way of working themselves up the line and stinging you when least expected.

If you visited Florida’s beaches this summer you may have been surprised by what looked like a warzone. Discarded bottles of Benadryl and vinegar stacked in area trash cans, with red and purple warning flags flying high above lifeguard towers. The signs mean only one thing—jellyfish invasion!

Moon jellyfish are a common sight to many Floridians, however when jellyfish invade in such massive numbers it’s understandable why people become alarmed. With translucent bodies growing to approximately 12 inches across, moon jellyfish are made up of mostly water, but produce an uncomfortable sting and rash that can linger for days. A moon jellyfish feeds by collecting zooplankton with its nematocyst-laden tentacles and coercing the prey into its body for digestion. Thankfully they are only capable of limited motion. Even when they are swimming moon jellyfish primarily drift with the current.

Beyond South Florida, mauve jellyfish invaded waters of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. Typically uncommon to Sunshine State waters mauve jellyfish are more at home in the Mediterranean. For reasons still somewhat unknown, these purple stingers swarmed Florida waters this summer. Smaller in stature, these jellyfish pack an equally painful punch. Over Memorial Day weekend more than 1,600 beachgoers were stung within a 10 mile stretch of Central Florida!

While there are those who say jellyfish population fluctuations are seasonal phenomenons and nothing to be concerned with, marine scientists studying these slimy sea creatures have developed alternative suggestions and theories. While there’s still much to learn, jellyfish blooms may be the result of ideal water temperature, salinity, oxygen content, plankton levels and ocean currents. In addition, tropical storm activity and the associated currents are thought to play an important role in the presence of these undesirable visitors.

While some blame natural weather patterns, could it be possible that the global increase in jellyfish is a direct result of human impact? Some scientists believe that jellyfish could be filling the void and capitalizing on nutrients available due to overfished marine creatures. The theory is simple. If there are less fish in the ocean there’s more food for jellyfish and populations are able to thrive. Furthermore, jellyfish flourish in warm waters that lack sufficient levels of oxygen. Human impact has certainly influenced dead zones, so this theory may have some clout. If this is indeed the truth things are going to get worse, as ocean temperatures are expected to rise worldwide.

While you may not be an avid beachgoer you still aren’t safe. Anglers throughout the state were also susceptible to stings, as these floating mines have a way of working themselves up the line and stinging you when least expected. And while coastal and offshore waters were littered with jellyfish, inshore arenas in the vicinity of area inlets weren’t out of harms way.

While it is still unknown as to exactly why an above average jellyfish invasion occurred this year, waters have cooled and jellyfish migrations have since moved on. Now it’s about that time when we start to see shark migrations storm the beaches, prompting lifeguards to once again carefully monitor area coastlines.

Ouch!

Jellyfish stinging cells are called nematocysts and feature a barb-like spear that’s packed with poison. Within a split second hundreds of these small stingers can fire, penetrate and insert poison. They can even sting you after a jelly has been dead for days. If you’ve been stung by a jellyfish you’ll want to avoid immediate rinsing with freshwater. Rinsing with freshwater may prompt the release of even more poison. To soothe the pain treat the area with white vinegar. Several studies have shown that vinegar deactivates the painful stinging cells.

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