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“Jellyfish are 97% water or something, so how much are they doing? Just give them another 3% and make them water. It’s more useful” ― Karl Pilkington

One jellyfish to rule them all.

One jellyfish to rule them all.

There are a lot of reasons you might not believe in climate change such as living under a rock, an unfortunate bludgeoning about the head and neck resulting in severe brain trauma, a generalized mistrust of anything that even sounds like science (maybe your wife ran away with a microbiologist), or perhaps you’re just an ontological nihilist.   Most sober individuals don’t even bother debating whether the climate is changing drastically any more, rather focus on the question of whether the dramatic shifts are caused by humans or part of a natural cycle.  As the ice caps melt, glaciers retreat, weather gets weirder, and all our beachfront property sinks under the rising ocean you can take solace in the fact that there is a remote possibility that human beings are just a bunch of arrogant little monsters that actually have the hubris to believe we can have a disastrous impact on our environment.  As in many things, being right isn’t enough.  I recommend you keep treading water while patting yourself on the back.  Now, if you think it likely you will be raptured before everything degenerates or perhaps you never liked kids anyway (thus, screw the next generation), a certain blasé attitude towards the whole issue may be justifiable.  That is, if it weren’t for the fact that the climate changes that 99% of the world’s scientists feel there is ample evidence for, unless being paid top dollar to do otherwise, appear to be leading to the rise of the planet of giant gelatinous zooplankton, or in common parlance, monster jellyfish bent on world domination.

Maybe you hate winter.  Maybe you’re looking forward to homesteading a farm in Greenland or Nunavut.  Maybe you welcome the day that your shack in Pennsylvania has an ocean view.  Regardless, I sincerely doubt that you are a partisan in favor of a global hegemony of invertebrates.  Nobody wants to be told what to do by something without a spinal column, although arguably this describes the entire management-employee relationship as experienced by most of our species. At any rate, if you fear nothing else about global warming, fear the fact that it plays into the hands of those who advocate an empire of monster jellyfish.  You know who you are.  Most folks are probably thinking that in the grand scheme of things, the jellyfish is not a particularly fearsome monster or candidate to usher in our doom, but that is what makes them dangerous.  They are subtle and patient.  Just look at their name.  They aren’t even fish.  They’ve already tricked us.  “Jellyfish” is the generic misnomer for a wide variety of gelatinous, free-swimming, umbrella-shaped, tentacle trailing marine animals that have been around for 700 million years (making them the oldest multi-organ animal).  Consequently, one expects they have a long view.  They are found in oceans and freshwater, from the surface to the bottom of the sea, and anyone who has seen them in an aquarium or while diving can attest to the fact that they are hauntingly, if deceptively beautiful.  Many jellyfish sport stinging tentacles to inject venom into their prey.  Luckily not all have toxins that affect humans, but those that do (presumably assigned to jellyfish legions) administer a poison that results in anything from agonizing pain to death.  Even when beached and dying, a jellyfish can still deliver its sting.  Also, jellyfish are carnivorous.  Sure they mostly eat plankton and small fish, but that’s just a matter of scale.  And the jellyfish are getting bigger, which is troublesome on a number of levels, the key one being that it’s rarely a positive development when a carnivore is tending to get bigger.  Bigger carnivores eat bigger prey.  And we’re not getting any bigger.  Periodically, we receive warnings about “jellyfish blooms”, that is hundreds or thousands of individual jellyfish getting together in a mongol horde and dominating a particular patch of ocean.  These are obviously practice runs.

Now, here’s the problem.  Everything that makes the Earth a less pleasant place as the climate changes for us Homo sapiens tends to improve conditions for jellyfish.  They are better able to survive in oxygen-depleted water and love increased concentrations of iodine (and our agricultural runoff is like an awesome banquet of nutrients for them).  The warmer the water gets the happier and more prolific they get.  As we merrily overfish a wide variety of species, we are obligingly wiping out a lot of the natural predators of jellyfish.  Consequently, jellyfish populations are expanding.

Big deal, you say?  You’re playing into their trap.  Superficially, it would seem that an amorphous blob drifting along with ocean currents doesn’t pose much of a threat, but for many years Jellyfish have been experimenting with targeted strikes on human civilization – disrupting our tourist economies by shutting down beaches, quietly attacking our fishing industry by destroying nets and eating up fish eggs, compromising seabed mining operations, and shutting down desalination plants.  In the last few decades, jellyfish have pursued a more aggressive strategy of probing our power infrastructure, clogging up cooling equipment and disabling power plants in the Philippines (1999) and California’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant (2008). Blooms of jellyfish have been known to act tactically as well, effectively clogging ships engines, which if it came down to it would seriously compromise our naval superiority.  They are laughing at our aircraft carriers.  Someone presciently pointed out the monstrous character of jellyfish when they assigned them their taxonomic subphylum Medusazoa (from the Gorgon “Medusa”).

And now, four foot long barrel jellyfish, typically found in the Mediterranean and tropics, have been spotted half a mile inland on Cornwall’s Helford River, reconnaissance for blooms of hundreds (possibly thousands) of Jellyfish reported off the coast of Devon, Dorset, and Cornwall.  Put it all together and we face a very disturbing future.  Jellyfish blooms are on the rise worldwide.  They are attacking our industries.  They are depleting our fish.  Is this a prelude to war?  An alert team of international scientists have become alarmed, and created the Jellyfish Database Initiative (JeDI) as an early warning system, that is now tracking the spread of the jellyfish menace, but most of us remain oblivious to the fact that one of the most frightening consequences of climate change is our impending defeat at the hands of giant zooplankton.  Will Jellyfish one day rule the world?  According to a 2008 report by The Gaurdian, “In terms of a straight head count against humans, they already do.  There are about six and half billion of us on the planet, whereas a fluther of jellyfish (collective-noun afficianados also accept a “smack”) measuring just 10 square miles to a depth of 11 meters that wiped out a Northern Ireland Salmon farm last year was said by marine scientists to have contained ‘billions’ of mauve stinger jellyfish” (Hickman, 2008).  Even more disturbing is the fact that some jellyfish are effectively immortal.  The Turritopsis dohrnii plainly refuses to die; aging in reverse until it becomes a polyp again and renews its own life cycle.  At which point it also declares, “There can be only one”, and begins plotting another few thousand years of softening up our defenses in preparation for the final jellyfish onslaught.

I don’t like to announce the sky is falling, but clearly the sky is falling.  All this debate on the drivers of climate change needs to stop, and we need to begin strategizing about how to avoid the enslavement of our species by floating bags of protoplasm armed with neurotoxins that have spent the past 700 million years perfecting plans to take over the Earth.  Lack of brains, spines, central nervous systems, or digestive, circulatory, or respiratory systems among the jellyfish set should not lull us into a sense of security, for as Beau Sheil observed, “Those who admire the massive, rigid bone structures of dinosaurs should remember that jellyfish still enjoy their very secure ecological niche”.  Deny that humans are changing our environment all you want, but the simple fact is you are unwittingly collaborating with the imperial aspirations of the jellyfish.

Hickman, Leo.  “Will Jellyfish Rule the World?”  The Guardian.  Tuesday, June 24, 2008.