Are Humans Causing Oceanic Jellygeddon? The Jury’s Still Out

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Tied tight with advancing technology are concerns human development is irrevocably damaging the planet. Back in 2001, one theory warned warmer oceans and overfishing would spawn jellyfish at an alarming rate. Throughout the next decade, tales of jelly terror hit headlines. 450 pound jellyfish capsized boats in Japan while jellyfish invaded and wiped out an entire Irish salmon fishery.

It’s a dystopic vision of future oceans inundated with invertbrate slime. And we’re to blame. Or so the story goes.

A recent report, penned by 16 member scientists of the Global Jellyfish Group, says fears of jelly-geddon may be premature. Although humans are likely affecting ecosystems to some extent—broad ocean studies have a significant data problem.

That’s where the Global Jellyfish Group’s Jellyfish Database Initiative (JEDI) comes in. The group spent the last two years organizing and tabulating jellyfish data into a giant jelly database. JEDI includes 405,398 records from 46 individual datasets spanning 19 countries and reaching back 220 years (1790 – 2010).

So what does JEDI tell us?

According to Robert Condon of Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the Global Jellyfish Group, "There's a perception that jellyfish numbers are exploding in the world's oceans, but there's no real evidence for a global increase in jellyfish over the past two centuries."

Condon is careful to note, however, that while the case for exploding jellyfish populations is overstated, that does not mean jellyfish blooms are not on the increase; just that there is no strong long-term evidence they are doing so at an unnatural rate.

The paper says fossil and written records indicate occasional “spectacular blooms” of jellyfish are par for the course and may be due to natural climate cycles.

To answer the question more completely, the Global Jellyfish Group is urging further study. Alongside JEDI, the group hopes to crowdsource jellyfish research. Their site, JellyWatch, tabulates citizen scientist observations of jellyfish in their local seas. Condon says, "Sustained monitoring is required over the next decade to find out if what we're seeing is an actual shift, or if it's part of a larger oscillation.”

Image Credit: shellac (featured), Mike Johnston (banner), Rennett Stowe (article)

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 6 Responses

  • Craig J. Townsend February 9, 2013 on 1:15 pm

    As a fan of the singularity and a devout hater of anything linear minded or Malthusian, I have to put my 2 micro cents in. Why the continuing slant toward the neo-malthusian propaganda of our day o this web site? Kurzweil is against it, so is Diamandis, Ridley, Kelly and Anderson. Are you guys closet Zeitgeisters? A neo-Marxian revisionist movement that is nothing but a backwards facing left wing Trojan horse with pretty sci-fi pictures plastered to its termite ridden rotting sides? Dump the hatred of humanity undercurrent and firmly embrace techno-optimism. It is the olnly solution to any and all of the world’s problems.

    • persiflage Craig J. Townsend February 9, 2013 on 10:41 pm

      ^ This ^ I agree with. What is with the Hub propaganda lately? You must have also seen that article titled “OUR POLLUTED SINGULARITY FUTURE?” These Malthusians need to crack an economics 101 textbook and look at the historical trends of developed nations. The pollution will abate at a certain level of development. Until then, at least the Chinese aren’t starving by the millions like they were 50 years ago. Get some perspective.

    • arpad Craig J. Townsend February 10, 2013 on 3:32 am

      “Why the continuing slant toward the neo-malthusian propaganda of our day o this web site?”

      Oh that’s easy – journalists aren’t anywhere near as courageous as they’d like to believe they are. What are the facts, or even that chimera “journalistic integrity” against the danger of being perceived as unhip?

      Not much, on the evidence with journalists evincing a bland disregard for the science, or rather the lack of science, in support of anthropogenic and all to avoid the name-calling of anonymous and powerless individuals. I’m sure the ghost of Veronica Guerin is looking on approvingly.

      • Keith Kleiner arpad February 11, 2013 on 4:27 pm

        At SH we are excited about the future, but we aren’t blindly optimistic. We do consider that there may be negative consequences of humankinds’ technological advancement, both short term and long term.

        • DigitalGalaxy Keith Kleiner February 15, 2013 on 8:54 pm

          Well said Keith!

    • DigitalGalaxy Craig J. Townsend February 15, 2013 on 8:55 pm

      Craig check out The Venus Project. It was what originally created Zeitgeist and ultimately it split the Zeitgeist movement away from itself because of exactly the things you are talking about. The Venus Project is pretty well set in what you term “techno-optimism”!