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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 08/ 3/2009

Climate Change and the Scary Jellyfish Scourge

By Andrew Freedman

* Hot and humid: Full Forecast *

A Chrysaora jellyfish. Image courtesy NOAA.

This summer has seen its share of odd climate change-related science stories. A running theme has been changes in the size and abundance of species as a result of human activities. For example, in June it was reported that jellyfish are becoming more numerous and larger in size, and they may soon "rule the ocean," while in July we learned that some creatures on land - sheep - are shrinking in size due in part to warming temperatures.

Try as I might, I can't seem to shake my nonplussed attitude towards the sheep story, since sheep are so docile that even a gargantuan sheep would fail to scare me, and the idea of tiny sheep is more cute than worrisome.

The jellyfish story is different, however.

In June I came across a Discovery News/ABC Science Online piece about a new study reporting that jellyfish are taking advantage of decades of overfishing and rising water temperatures to expand their numbers, range, and size. Then last week National Geographic News and other outlets reported that Japan is gearing up for an invasion of previously rare giant jellyfish, known as Nomura, that can weigh as much as a sumo wrestler.

Let me repeat that. There is a jellyfish that can weigh as much as a sumo wrestler, between 400-500 pounds.

Jellyfish have always unnerved me, with their transparent appearance and odd shape that makes them look more at home in the outer solar system than here on earth. When concerning government activities, transparency is a good thing that can increase confidence and reduce fears of abuse of power. But in nature, transparency can be deceiving. I just can't trust a transparent sea creature. The very fact that they appear to have nothing to hide means that they must have something to hide. (Nor can I trust transparent food, and I have always had issues eating JELL-O).

The fact that many jellyfish species are highly venomous doesn't help their case. A Portuguese "Man-of-War" once terrorized my family after my mother plucked it up off a beach in Bermuda during a vacation, intending to show it to my brother and me. Recalling the pain, she still ranks it as her all-time dumbest move.

My mom was lucky. Some jellyfish actually kill people, which is probably embarrassing for the victims when they arrive at their afterlife destination and have to tell others that their fate was sealed when they encountered a tiny, transparent denizen of the deep.

"Really? You were killed by a jellyfish? As in, a tiny, clear, plastic-lookin' fella that can usually be avoided while swimming? My God man, that's more embarrassing than having a spiny coconut fall on your head from a weak palm tree, which is what happened to me."

In some parts of the world, jellyfish are no laughing matter though. For example, when snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef in northern Australia last winter (summer in the S. Hemisphere) I had to wear a full body protective wetsuit to prevent being stung by the dreaded irukandji jellyfish. When I asked some Aussies how I would recognize one when I see it, they told me they are too small to see, and the only sign of one would be unbearable pain followed by death.

"Oh, ok, that's very helpful," I said. "Thanks. I'll keep ya posted then."

There have been reports of increased jellyfish sightings and stings at local beaches as well, including a story in July about a spike in jellyfish stings at Dewey and Rehoboth Beaches in Delaware. More than 100 people were stung in one week in July, compared to the normal of 30.

So what's going on? According to the Discovery News piece, climate change has warmed the global oceans enough to allow jellyfish populations to grow, while overfishing has eliminated many of the fish that have competed with jellyfish for the same food sources. As previously reported, global ocean temperatures were the highest on record for the month of June, according to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center.

The scariest sentence in the Discovery News piece pertained to this conflation of trends in ocean temps and overfishing: "The team believes that for the first time, water conditions could lead to what they call a "jellyfish stable state," in which jellyfish rule the oceans." According to the study discussed in the article, jellyfish can even survive low oxygen "dead zones", such as the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, whereas fish cannot.

Wait a second. Technically speaking, if jellyfish can survive in a "dead zone", doesn't that make them... undead?

Great, now I am even more scared than I was when I started writing this piece.

By Andrew Freedman  | August 3, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, News & Notes, Satire  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: A Very Warm, Sometimes Humid Week
Next: PM Update: Pretty Pleasant for August


The National Aquarium in Baltimore has an exhibit right now called "Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balancw" (, discussing just this matter.

Posted by: Murre | August 3, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Actually, tiny sheep scare me. Think of woolen sweater prices going UUUUUUPPP-- because more tiny sheep will have to be shorn to make one sweater.

Can someone mess with jellyfish genes to make something more productive, like maybe "water-sheep"???

Posted by: bronxace | August 3, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Jellyfish [Cnidaria] may actually be some of the oldest multicellular animals on earth, having been here for 500-650 million years,since the Ediacaran era. That's up to 300 million years older than the oldest dinosaur, and even more venerable than the trilobites.

Unless the folks behind the pearly gates are all downright Darwin-rejecting fundamentalists, they are probably well aware of jellyfish and their nematocysts (stinging cells).

Posted by: Bombo47jea | August 3, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I would think that most people would not bother reporting jellyfish stings at our area beaches.

Posted by: spgass1 | August 3, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

spgass1, good point. To whom would one even report such a thing? I'm heading the Outerbanks later this week, and many of the beaches don't have lifeguards.

The cops? "Officer, officer, I've been assaulted by a jellyfish!"

Weird. I really don't want jellyfish to rule the ocean...

Posted by: dinermail | August 3, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

"... to my brother and I"? How about a jellyfish sting to wake up the editor?

Posted by: szwheelock | August 3, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Jellyfish are freaky. Brainless, and not really a fish, not a plant, and now they're taking over the ocean. Imagine if they were evolve into an airborn undead, though I guess they've had a few hundred million years and haven't managed that feat yet... I think keep them away from the nuclear power plants.

Posted by: guitar_blue | August 3, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Just change their name to "smuckersfish" and commercial fisherman will drive them to near extinction in no time.

Posted by: spidey103 | August 3, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I have one very simple solution for you. Stop killing all the sharks! Sharks are the single biggest predators of jellyfish. Lemon sharks are particularly helpful and they are now endangered.

Posted by: akmzrazor | August 3, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

One word...Biofuel.

Posted by: nonag | August 3, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse


I'm confused here, can you help? I thought that the big Argo buoy study (the most comprehensive ever) has failed to show any warming of the oceans since 2003 and has instead shown cooling? Is that true? If so, it seems to blow up this whole article, does it not?

Posted by: RMVA | August 3, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"failed to show any warming of the oceans" (RMVA):
Would you like some red herring with your jellyfish?
Ocean heat content revisions

Posted by: CapitalClimate | August 3, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Jellyfish are a delicacy in Japan. Simply wash jellyfish in fresh water.

Blanch the jellyfish in boiling waer few seconds (you will see that the amount will shrink in size) and quickly plunge it into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain.

When jellyfish is cold enough to handle, slice the jellyfish into smaller pieces. Add your favorite sauce.

Posted by: mdreader01 | August 3, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, thats your response? Give me a break.

Everyone knows about the early data issues with Argo, but the Argo data even after the 2003-2005 correction still shows cooling. NPR even highlighted it recently

and the argo data here:

Posted by: RMVA | August 3, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of dead zones, the Chesapeake Bay is proof that jellyfish can survive and thrive in them. According to the National Science Foundation's Jellyfish Gone Wild report, 500,000 people are stung by jellyfish in the Bay each year. One type of jelly found in the Bay can produce 45,000 eggs in one day - how comforting.

Great approach to this story, Andrew!

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | August 3, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and here's a useful Nowcast of Sea Nettle jellyfish in the Chesapeake Bay for anyone heading there for a swim this summer. (It also has a helpful FAQ page.)

As for who to report to if you get stung, your guess is as good as mine.

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | August 3, 2009 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I keeping hearing about Jellies and them being a barometer of the health of the sea--when lots are present, the sea is in trouble. Here is an account of the jellies in the Bering Sea (home of World's Deadliest Catch). Quite disturbing that the area happens to be home to the worlds largest commercial fishing fleet and that jellies have increased 10 fold recently...check this out

Posted by: enRAGED | August 3, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

We ordinarily think of ocean currents, temperture, and chemistry as governing the life of small swimming animals, such as jelly fish. However, according to a recent research sponosred by NSF, "..there have been increasing suggestions that the inverse is also important, how the animals themselves, via swimming, might impact the ocean environment."

It's argued that small animals- presumably mostly jelly fish in the prospective era of jellyfish dominance - can collectively enhance the vertical mixing of warmer near surface water with cooler water at depth and, thereby, possibly contribute to the global ocean circulation. The next question is how this effect could be included in global ocean models which are important in assessing global change scenarios.

No kidding. Andrew, have you ever heard of anything like this. It's a new twist to me.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | August 3, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Increase in Jelly fish population may be due to the fall in fin fish population and this could be due to fall in Diatom Algae population.

Fin fish require diatoms. Jelly fish can thrive on Dinoflagalettes.

We are promoting the concept of restoring the ocean balance by increasing Diatom Algae population.

Posted by: bhaskarmv | August 3, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Interesting comments folks, keep 'em coming. Thanks for the links to some interesting studies and web sites on jellyfish. Steve T - I had heard of the NSF study but hadn't looked into it yet. It sounds rather far-fetched to me that jellyfish would exert a major influence on global ocean circulation, but anything is possible.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | August 3, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

At least something edible will survive past mid-century in the ocean (I guess you'll just have to get over your fear of jellyfish -- ummmm jelly...):

Salt-Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048
Study By Ecologists, Economists Predicts Collapse of World Ocean Ecology

The apocalypse has a new date: 2048.That's when the world's oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, -- with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama -- was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world. The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise. "I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are -- beyond anything we suspected," Worm says in a news release. "This isn't predicted to happen. This is happening now," study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release.

Posted by: dobermantmacleod | August 4, 2009 5:26 AM | Report abuse

P.S. Plan ahead:
Jellyfish - recipes
Preparing, cooking, and storing, plus nutritional information.

Posted by: dobermantmacleod | August 4, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Since past global warming, calamitous, predictions have not panned out -
1. More frequent and more severe tropical storms - Not as of yet
2. More tornadoes - Nope
3. Increased global temperatures - Wrong again.
Mr. Freedman has to look for something else (that he can claim is related to global warming) to scare people. My personal favorite was the giant, man eating snakes!

Remember when "scientists" were blaming "climate change" for frog deaths??? Wrong, yet again.

More scientists come out against the man made global warming religion: Open Letter to Chancellor Merkel.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 4, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Freedman, or anyone who believes in catastrophic, man-made, global warming, does it bother you that government agencies are refusing to publicly release the data? What are they hiding? Why not release the stupid data?????

Aren't you believers just the slightest bit curious?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 4, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

not a huge fan of jellyfish...

Posted by: madisondc | August 4, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Ref: 3. "Increased global temperatures - Wrong again".

Why is it that Mr. Q has refused to address the question I've posed to him earlier in regard to his continual reference to the MSU satellite temperature data.

Let's try again:

Why Mr.Q are your beloved MSU global temperatures presented now only in terms of the global average? The MSU site had been showing the actual map of the global distribution of temperature anomalies. Now all we get are the global means. The last I saw these charts they had not been updated after December 2008. It appears now that these displays have disappeared completely from UAH websites.

Could it be that I had debunked these MSU global averages because of including the erroneous cold temperatures over and around the Antarctic, which considerably offset the fact that the rest of the globe was dominated by warmth?? Please explain.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | August 4, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Tracton wrote, "Could it be that I had debunked these MSU global averages because of including the erroneous cold temperatures over and around the Antarctic, which considerably offset the fact that the rest of the globe was dominated by warmth?? Please explain."

Yes, it was all you Dr. Tracton. Your impact in the scientific community is limitless. ;)

And yes, we wouldn't want to include temperatures of the Antarctic when calculating the global temperature, would we? That's just crazy talk!

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 4, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

A non-answer answer from Mr. Q. Just as expected.

I'm "just the slightest bit curious" why he is not "just the slightest bit curious" about what has happened to the MSU data, which after all is at the heart of his "Increased global temperatures - Wrong again" statement. "

Why does he not ask the provider of the MSU data the same questions he asks of Mr. Freedman of government agencies: "why are they refusing to publicly release the data? What are they hiding? Why not release the stupid data?????"

"BTW: Whether artificial or not (it's not) let's suppose the Antarctic is cooling. It's "crazy talk" to dismiss the observations that on average the globe exclusive of the Antarctic is warming

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | August 4, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the climate change legislation being bandied about in Congress will do very little to stem the tide of global climate change...and scary jellyfish. We should be looking at the alternative that leading scientists and economists have long recommended: a revenue-neutral carbon tax that’s simple, transparent, and easy to administer.

Posted by: SallyVCrockett | August 4, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

--begin quote--
The processed temperature data is available on-line at:

As part of an ongoing joint project between UAH and NOAA, Christy and Dr. Roy Spencer, an Earth System Science Center principal scientist, use data gathered by microwave sounding units on NOAA satellites to get accurate temperature readings for almost all regions of the Earth. This includes remote desert, ocean and rain forest areas for which reliable climate data are not otherwise available.

The satellite-based instruments measure the temperature of the atmosphere from the surface up to an altitude of about eight kilometers above sea level.

Once the monthly temperature data is collected and processed, it is placed in a "public" computer file FOR IMMEDIATE ACCESS by atmospheric scientists in the U.S. and abroad.
--end quote--

Source of the above quote.

UAH hides absolutely nothing. None of the skeptics hide their data or their methods. Pity the believers aren't the same.

Mr. Freedman, did you have any luck getting MIT to release the information that I requested?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 4, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Or perhaps this is what you were looking for. Or this.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 4, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Or perhaps this.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 4, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

SallyVCrockett wrote, "We should be looking at the alternative that leading scientists and economists have long recommended: a revenue-neutral carbon tax that’s simple, transparent, and easy to administer."

Why not just replace existing coal fired power plants with nuclear powered plants? Is that too simple a solution? Why do we have to involve taxes at all?

Hello, Brian! Feel free to man up any time now. This was a slow ball with your name on it. Knock it out of the park!

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 5, 2009 12:27 AM | Report abuse

@Mr. Q

The ole story - when one cannot enlighten with information, obfuscate by throwing out a mishmash of raw data. I'm aware of all the sites you mention - glad you are too - but data alone is NOT information, especially user friendly information. And, we both know the intent is to turn off the vast majority of readers with the largely uninterpretable intimate details of the MSU data. It's about the same as asking users of weather models to interpret a listing of input data and model equations rather than just a simple map or chart of the model output.

My initial question remains unanswered: why are the (user friendly) actual maps of the global distribution of temperature anomalies no longer available? Means alone just don't cut it when in comes to picturing the broad-scale global distribution and variability of temperatures. Or, at a minimum, why are the standard deviations (variability about means) not shown in the data files or the graph you continue to
refer to?.

Enough! I'm willing to acknowledge being wrong (naturally skeptical) when justifiable. Mr. Q., as all die hard "deniers" clearly
are not

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | August 5, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

The old graphics are still available, but they have not updated them. They can be found here. You would have known where they were if you would bother to keep up with both sides of the issue.

I ignored your question because I have already answered this EXACT same question from you in the past. The short answer is the difficulty in making a 2D representation of a globe. Search your own archives.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 5, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Steve T, is this what you were looking for?

Posted by: RMVA | August 5, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Tracton wrote, "Or, at a minimum, why are the standard deviations (variability about means) not shown in the data files or the graph you continue to refer to?."

Let me make sure I understand you correctly.

You are going to whine about the absence of standard deviation bars on the graphic representation of satellite temperature as depicted on ONE INDIVIDUAL's PERSONAL web site, while turning a blind eye to the fact that a government entity is willfully withholding data and methods from the public that pays for its very existence. An agency which advocates for climate legislation willfully withholds the data and you whine a private citizen's personal web site!

Un. Frickin. Believable.

And you call me a "die hard"? I suggest you try a little introspection before you embarrass yourself further.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | August 5, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Mr. Q. for standing against the otherwise unchallenged nonsense of the global warming fetish always represented by the CWG.

The alarmists follow a fetish and they are not entirely amendable to facts and logic. Since you would challenge their beliefs, hopes and religious predictions about the future with facts and logic, they attack you personally.

Please do not allow there tired tactics to deter you from posting some much needed balance in this corner of the internet.

Without your postings here, there would little to balance the routine nonsense and obfuscation from Andrew Freedman and similar cult members.

Any reporting here about all time record setting cold in New York, Boston and Chicago this summer? Any mention of the relatively quiet tornado season? How about the lack of Hurricanes to date? To be sure, those events are most likely linked to normal seasonal patterns and variations, but since they don't fit the pseudo gw religious doctrine, they will never be covered here.

Keep up the good work.

Thanks Mr. Q.


Posted by: ubimea | August 5, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse


Actually -- Yes, yes and yes. We've reported on the cool summer for parts of the U.S. here, the lack of tornadoes here, and the thus-far quiet hurricane season here.

Posted by: CapitalWeatherGang | August 5, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Actually, no, no and no. Each one of those articles proves the point that for the CWG, (as is also true for the rest of church of the gw fetish), any measured cooling event is to be minimized or dismissed to the work of mother nature, while any evidence, however absurd like scary jellyfish, is squarely the fault of Exxon, George Bush, CO2 and man made global warming.

The reality is that the cool summer many parts of the US this year was remarkable on its own, without regard to being at odds with predictions from the GW scare crowd.

I think I speak for many of the long timers around here that I wish you would cut back on the obvious political agenda and stick to forecasting DC weather.

Or how about a more centered regular poster in counterbalance Mr Freedmans hard stuck left view?

In the meantime, all encouragement to the few like Mr. Q (and there are others as well) who dare to present a more complete story than offered here.

Best regards,

Posted by: ubimea | August 5, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

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