Jellyfish often take a back seat to sharks within the trepidatious imagination of beach goers along the coast. Yet these creatures are some of the oldest, most fascinating and incredibly complicated creatures that occur on the shores of South Carolina. But basics first, jellyfish are not a fish, they’re actually a plankton in the phylum Cnidaria (from the Greek root for “stinging nettle”). But you already knew that, what you may not know is that researchers at the University of British Columbia are discovering that population numbers of these mysterious creatures are on the rise. Jellyfish, in a short-term sense, go through periods of large-scale population bursts, which are subsequently followed by a crash.
However, researchers are beginning to uncover evidence, which supports claims by commercial fishermen that populations as a whole have been increasing over the past decade. In other words, there are increasingly larger undulations within the population cycles of jellyfish, larger “blooms” and consequently larger crashes. While the focus of the study is targeting population fluctuations within jellyfish populations, researchers suggest warming trends within the ocean as a possible explanation for the amplitude shift within populations of jellyfish. However, an increase in jellyfish populations does bode well for this year’s marine sea turtle nesting season, as jellyfish are the main source of food for Loggerhead, Leatherback and Green Sea Turtles which all visit the shores of the southeast.
In the Kiawah River, a marked increase in the number of jellyfish has been observed by several naturalists and captains, however our most common type of jellyfish is not to be feared. The Cannonball Jellyfish (Stromolophus meleagris) does contain nematocysts that deploy toxins; however stings from the Cannonball rarely affect humans.