Are jellyfish the weeds of our oceans?

Lisa-Ann Gershwin holds an Irukandji jellyfish in a capsule at TEDxDublin (Photo: TEDxDublin)

Lisa-Ann Gershwin holds an Irukandji jellyfish in a capsule at TEDxDublin (Photo: TEDxDublin)

Marine biologist Lisa-Ann Gershwin is an expert on jellyfish. In fact, she’s written the book on them, Stung!, which serves as a jellyfish primer as well as an in-depth look at how blooms of jellyfish — swarms of the creatures that can contain billions of animals — provide insight on ocean health and climate change. The scientist has discovered over 160 new species of jellyfish, including 14 new species of life-threatening jellyfish near Australia. So, when the news of a new jellyfish discovered by the crew of NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer and its remotely operated underwater vehicle Deep Discoverer broke, we naturally thought of Gershwin’s incredible TEDxDublin talk on jellyfish and their role in the world’s oceans.

A still from NASA's video of the new jellyfish, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

A photo of the newly discovered jellyfish, courtesy of a video by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

In her talk, Gershwin details the many crises facing today’s oceans and explores why jellyfish are thriving when so many other marine species are suffering — fish, coral, sea butterflies and those who feed on these species. “Jellyfish are sort of the perfect [ocean] weed,” she says.”They’ve got a weird life-cycle; they can clone in 13 different ways; they don’t need to see to eat; they grow really fast; if they can’t find food — they don’t need food — they just de-grow really slowly and then when they find food they just re-grow again; they’re temperature tolerant; they’re salinity tolerant; and one species is truly biologically immortal.”

“[Jellyfish are] clogging up fishing nets, and in many places the jellyfish are actually out-competing the fish,” she says. “Power plants are being shut down by jellyfish getting clogged in the in-tanks. It’s becoming very hard to find a safe space to swim, or even — if you’re a bird — to find a safe space to land … Jellyfish eat the eggs and larvae of fish,” she says, “and they eat the plankton that the larvae would eat. This double whammy … can wipe out an ecosystem and keep it down.”

Watch Gershwin’s whole talk to learn more:

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