Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
News Splash

Stung! Jellyfish blooms

On May 17, 2013, Dr. Lisa-ann Gershwin gave a presentation at CMA and debuted her book Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. Gershwin’s career actually started at CMA when her third grade class visited the Aquarium and she decided right then and there to become a marine biologist. Twenty-years later, as a volunteer in CMA’s jelly lab, Gershwin became enchanted by the moon jellies that resembled “living lava lamps” and decided to study jellyfish.

Today, Gershwin is director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services and is considered to be one of the world’s foremost experts on jellies. She has discovered more than 150 new species, including 16 highly dangerous jellyfish. During the lecture, Gershwin took the audience on an ocean odyssey, demonstrating how the health of our oceans and jellyfish populations are forever intertwined.

“Jellyfish blooms are the visible indicator that something is not quite right for an ecosystem, that something is out of balance,” said Gershwin. “When an ecosystem is nice and healthy, jellyfish can’t get the proverbial foot in the door. They bloom as a normal part of their lifecycle, but blooms come and go and they don’t last very long, it’s just a normal seasonal thing.”

Gershwin showed photo after photo of abnormally large jellyfish blooms that persist for months and sometimes even years in certain parts of the world. These blooms are so massive that they can be seen from space! She explained that the size and duration of a jellyfish bloom indicates how severely an ecosystem is out of whack. But what’s causing such extreme imbalances in the ocean?

According to Gershwin, several human-generated environmental stressors are working together to create a very unstable ocean, including: overfishing, climate change, eutrophication (excess nutrient run-off), pollution, invasive species and ocean acidification. And while many other ocean species struggle to adapt and survive in such extreme circumstances, jellyfish thrive.

“Jellyfish are the ultimate weed. They grow fast, they don’t need to eat all the time, they can tolerate just about any temperature and salinity and even chemicals don’t bother them,” said Gershwin. “They are the ultimate survivors and through the past 600 million years of jellyfish in our oceans, other species have come and gone, while jellyfish have persisted just as they are.”

Despite being so successful, jellies are actually very primitive organisms and their ability to prosper for millions of years boils down to one thing: their lifecycle. Like many other ocean animals, male jellies broadcast sperm into the water column and then female jellies capture the sperm to fertilize their eggs. The eggs develop well-protected on the female’s oral arms (extended lips that look like tentacles). After a few days, the fertilized eggs grow into larvae and swim away in search of a nice place to settle on the ocean floor.

Once larvae find a suitable place to settle, they develop into polyps that start cloning and cloning and cloning. This cloning ability gives jellyfish a great advantage. “Pretty soon you end up with blankets of jellyfish. And when conditions are right they undergo a process called strobilation where the polyp elongates and differentiates into a stack of discs that pop up and become free floating jellyfish, and then they start eating and growing and soon there is another population of jellyfish” said Gershwin.

In fact, many of the environmental stressors that cause other animal populations to decline actually trigger jellyfish polyps to strobilate and kickoff the next generation. And the more jellyfish there are, the more imbalanced an ecosystem becomes as they decimate food sources, create more carbon dioxide from their waste, and use up the last bits of oxygen at the surface of dead zones.

Gershwin painted a grim picture of an ocean in the not so distant future peppered with coastal dead zones, plagued by jellyfish blooms, overwhelmed by pollution and wrought with invasive species. Yet, she still ended on a note of hope, “If we decide there’s value in the environment and what we get from the ocean, we can take steps to do something to slow these changes down. The more money we invest in research to try to find ways to not get there, we may actually be able to not get there. We have a choice.”

Post Date: Monday, June 3, 2013


Facebook icon  Linkedin icon  StumbleUpon icon  Twitter icon 

    News Archive

          5/20/2021 Opening Update (Featured)
          5/15/2021 Help us "Blow Up" Whale Education - VOTE today!!
          5/13/2020 Temporary Closure-COVID-19
          5/1/2020 Discovery Lecture Series
          4/30/2020 Support Ground-breaking Giant Sea Bass Research
          4/22/2020 Earth Day Poster Contest Sponsored by the Port of Los Angeles
          2/14/2020 Agents of Discovery
          4/5/2018 Grand Grunion Gala Honoring Two Conservation Leaders
          3/1/2018 Spring and Summer Programs
          11/1/2017 Holiday Open House & Artisan Market Sunday, November 26 12pm - 5pm
          8/7/2017 FREE Public Tours
          6/4/2017 Pied For A Porpoise
          3/22/2017 Honoring Russ Lesser
          11/17/2016 Makers Market - Dec. 3
          10/18/2016 Sea Star Wasting Syndrome
          9/20/2016 Sustainable Seafood Expo
          4/14/2016 CMA in the News
          10/26/2015 Help CMA win $5,000!
          3/15/2015 CMA Staff Member on Ship-Based Research Expedition to Antarctica
          11/3/2014 One Million Pieces of Trash
          7/10/2014 Midnight research studying grunion
          6/12/2014 Stay Connected to CMA
          6/3/2014 Tesoro Donates $50,000
          3/12/2014 Delving into Sustainable Seafood
          3/3/2014 Ocean Discovery Kits
          2/7/2014 Sweetheart Savings for Gala
          1/29/2014 Sustainable Seafood Event
          1/13/2014 New Executive Director
          1/1/2014 Let's go whale watching!
          12/6/2013 Little Squirts is Moving
          11/20/2013 Help FCMA Raise $15,000
          11/13/2013 Sea stars wasting away
          11/4/2013 From Junior Docent to Junior Leader
          10/27/2013 Sharks belong in the ocean
          10/21/2013 Help FCMA win $5,000
          9/23/2013 Making a Difference
          9/16/2013 CMA Receives Top Honor
          8/30/2013 Symbiotic Copepoda Workshop
          8/19/2013 FRIENDS Announces Marine Science Scholarship Winners
          8/5/2013 Robots Storm CMA
          7/24/2013 PADI Internship Program
          7/9/2013 Story time in CMA's library
          6/28/2013 Summer in the Aquatic Nursery
          6/14/2013 Become a Sea Ranger
          6/3/2013 Stung! Jellyfish blooms
          5/28/2013 Lights, Camera, Ocean!
          5/23/2013 Students celebrate Earth Day the CMA way
          5/13/2013 Scholarships Offered
          5/12/2013 CMA Kids News
          5/9/2013 Grand Grunion Gala A Smashing Success
          4/15/2013 Student Research Highlights
          3/15/2013 World Ocean Network
          3/4/2013 Middle school students spend Sundays with science
          2/17/2013 White Abalone Spawning
          2/4/2013 Earth Day Poster and Photo Contest
          1/29/2013 Introducing the pipefish
          1/22/2013 An animal’s conservation status
          1/9/2013 Experience a worm’s eye-view in the mud tunnel
          12/31/2012 Books about CMA
          12/21/2012 Exploration Center: You oughta be in ocean pictures
          12/14/2012 Rare bird spotted near CMA
          12/12/2012 Start a free table at work
          12/7/2012 Camouflage: the art of blending in
          11/26/2012 Announcing a new species!
          11/13/2012 Ocean Children's Books
          11/5/2012 School groups: Paying one can at a time
          10/31/2012 Exhibits and Collections Curator elected SCAS President
          10/22/2012 Argonaut at CMA
          10/20/2012 Wash your car the ocean way
          10/12/2012 Aquatic Nursery: A new role for red abalone
          10/5/2012 The 8th International Aquarium Congress
          10/1/2012 Danielle’s First 100 Days
          9/29/2012 Ocean Outreach Team
          9/24/2012 Sea Otter Awareness Week
          9/23/2012 The CMA Gift Shop: A personal shopping experience
          9/13/2012 Free audio tour available
          9/10/2012 SEA Club is a great way for kids to spend an afternoon
          8/29/2012 Phillips 66 Supports CMA
          8/23/2012 What’s on CMA’s Menu?
          8/11/2012 It's Shark Week!
          8/10/2012 Congratulations Scholarship Winners!
          8/2/2012 Looking under the microscope in the Exploration Center
          7/20/2012 Students earn CMA field trip
          7/19/2012 Become a FRIENDS of CMA Community Sponsor!
          6/27/2012 Youth On Board
          6/14/2012 Celebrate National Lobster Day
          6/8/2012 Underwater Park System
          6/7/2012 The Nausicaá Connection
          6/1/2012 Intel Innovation Showcase
          5/3/2012 A Career in Marine Biology
          3/3/2012 "Youth on Board" Video Contest
          2/28/2012 CMA Awarded Grant for Tidewater Goby Education
          2/28/2012 Flashback: A Page Out of CMA History
          1/17/2012 "Amazing Aquariums"
          1/6/2012 Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Is Accessible to All
          11/16/2011 New Education Curator
          11/15/2011 CMA Staff Members Tour SA Recycling
          11/14/2011 Inner Cabrillo Beach Survey: You Never Know What You Might Find!
          10/27/2011 Mommy and Me Class at CMA?
          10/19/2011 Jellies Travel the World
          10/3/2011 Practice Safe Whale Watching
          9/19/2011 A Clean Sweep!
          9/8/2011 Volunteer Spotlight
          8/15/2011 Become a Volunteer Research Intern
          8/3/2011 It's Shark Week
          7/29/2011 Mutant Crab at CMA
          2/10/2011 New Animal Care Center
          1/2/2011 A Tribute to John M. Olguin
          9/27/2010 AZA Honors CMA
          2/2/2010 75 Years Young!
          9/22/2009 $30,000 Grant Received!
          6/23/2009 CA State Marine Fish Babies Growing at CMA!
          1/10/2009 Piglet Squid
          7/14/2008 One In A Million