Are Jellyfish Taking Over the Ocean?

6th February 2012

Jellyfish blooms have finding their way into the media recently – clogged nets for fishermen, stinging waters for tourists, even choked intake lines for power plants – creating a perception that the world’s oceans are experiencing increases in jellyfish due to human activities such as global warming and overfishing.

A new study conducted at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and published in the latest issue of BioScience questions this view. The study’s authors note that while there have been jellyfish blooms in certain areas (notably Giant Jellyfish in Japan), other regions have seen jellyfish declines or fluctuations. As noted in the press release,

Increased speculation and discrepancies about current and future jellyfish blooms by the media and in climate and science reports formed the motivation for the study. "There are major consequences for getting the answer correct for tourism, fisheries and management decisions as they relate to climate change and changing ocean environments," says Duarte. "The important aspect about our synthesis is that we will be able to support the current paradigm with hard scientific data rather than speculation."

The study has also led to the formation of the improbably named JEDI (Jellyfish Database Initiative), a database consisting of over 500,000 data points about global jellyfish populations collected from as early as 1790. By analyzing and continuously updating JEDI, scientists hope to learn more about how human activities, such as climate change, are impacting jellyfish populations. So are jellyfish burgers in our future? Looks like the jury’s still out on that one.

The full press release about the publication of this paper is available here.