pacific nettle jellyfish

Jellyfish: Look, but don’t touch. Maybe eat?

posted by Sarah Curry on 28 October 2013

There was a time when I would have a mini panic attack when I encountered a jellyfish in the ocean. While I’m still more scared of them than sharks, I’ve overcome my fear a bit since I moved to South Florida. Here, we have the moon jellyfish season in late summer where they come, by the truckload it seems, and you have to become a shape shifter to maneuver around them. Those guys are more of an annoyance than a real threat. Once you get stung for the first time, you realize the pain fades fairly quickly compared to other jellyfish stings.

And unless you actually get in the ocean regularly, you may not have any reason to give jellyfish a second thought. However, scientists have been warning that a jelly-filled ocean may be our future. A decrease in their natural predators, like turtles, an increase in nutrients in waters, and warming waters is making the ocean more jellyfish friendly.

Jellyfish expert Lisa-ann Gershwin recently released a book on the topic,  Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Oceans. While jellyfish are normally passive drifters, puffing they’re way with the currents, there is one that actively hunts fish. Talk about scary… (read about the box jelly here in Tim Flannery’s review of Stung!). The box jelly may be a source of anxiety if you live in Australia, but otherwise what’s really scary is the idea of having an ocean full of jellyfish and what that would mean (does mean) for the health of our oceans! However, some scientists have countered that jellyfish populations fluctuate over time, and there’s no real evidence to suggest numbers are actually increasing.

They still can be an annoyance. Grist recently wrote about ‘The five best times jellyfish shut down power plants,’ which apparently happens quite often. Korean scientists have invented a jellyfish-killing robot to help tackle the problem,but another solution is to eat them. In some areas of the world, this is already happening. Last year when I was in China I was on the lookout for some to try and while I didn’t find any, I did hear they’re like tofu in the sense that they pick up whatever flavor you add to them.  Like we’ve talked about before here at FNF, eating fish that are taking over an ecosystem for whatever reason…can be a form of control (see our invasive lionfish blogs).

Is this the new ‘peanut butter jelly time’?  I’ve found a few recipes already online, and now just have to figure out if moon jellyfish are considered an edible jelly. If so, I’m in luck, as they’re still bouncing through South Florida waters in relatively high numbers. (Not quite sure how about catching it, then bringing it home….I’ll be sure to share if I end of doing that!)

While we definitely DO NOT want jellyfish taking over the ocean, watching them -in an aquarium, or from a safe distance in the wild- can be quite mesmerizing. Here’s a short video I made from the beauties over at the Vancouver Aquarium, when I was there a few years ago. (One of the jellies in the footage IS an edible jelly. Which one would you want to eat?)

One thought on “Jellyfish: Look, but don’t touch. Maybe eat?

  1. HI, Nice blog. A couple points: not only sea turtles but lots of fish eat jellyfish. Also, many pelagic fish depend on jellyfish and flotsam as a nursery ground (sort of like floating reefs), and there are many symbiotic relationships. Fishermen have been using jellyfish as bait for spadefish in the SE US for many years. I wrote about jellyfish ecology and fish symbiosis years ago:
    http://www.fishecology.org/cv/Rountree%20BS%20Honors%20Thesis.pdf
    The cannon ball (or cabbage head) jellyfish, Stomolophus meleagris is a very strong swimmer and seems to respond to approaching boats by diving. It is one of the best jellyfish for drying and consumption because of its very firm flesh. It is almost completely harmless lacking tentacles and its nematocysts are very weak. You can handle them all you like (just don’t rub your face and eyes with your hands after handling). Best, Rodney

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